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Connecting Southwest LA

Los Angeles Southwest College in West Athens – Westmont

Construction of Athens Vistas – Affordable Housing Project

In the heart of the West Athens-Westmont neighborhood, the County of Los Angeles will implement an audacious plan called Connect Southwest LA to develop the community between Los Angeles Southwest College and Metro’s Green Line Vermont/Athens Station. Unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors, this highly anticipated plan creates a vision to improve access to transit, connect the communities within the West Athens-Westmont corridor to Southwest Community College, identify locations to potentially build more than 1,000 additional multi-family housing units, increase commercial space for more retail and jobs, as well as create a healthier, safer environment for walking and biking.

Grand Reopening of Casa Honduras Restaurant – Celebrating Facade Improvements

“This plan lays the footprint for a brighter future for the West Athens-Westmont community,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “It is an exciting and thoughtful plan that is filled with opportunities to create more affordable housing sites, improve mobility connections, and foster a thriving academic environment at Los Angeles Southwest College. We are uplifting the assets of the community to benefits all who live, work, study, play and pray here. ”

Connect Southwest LA is the product of a community seeing change on the horizon and proactively embracing the opportunity to direct how it will affect them”, said regional planner Leon D. Freeman, AICP.  “In doing so, the West Athens-Westmont community showed they could preserve their best assets while still providing 1.7 million sq. ft. for new businesses as well as 1,000 new homes. These new businesses will provide economic opportunities and community benefits to the students of Los Angeles Southwest College and the local residents that they will serve.”

Metro Vermont/Athens Green Line Station Platform

The Connect Southwest LA plan is part of a larger vision to create a town center around Southwest College, and it combines the most important elements of the best Transit Oriented Developments.  It highlights the multiple forms of public transit that already serve the area, such as Metro’s Green Line Vermont/Athens Station which currently connects to buses, as well as the Link, which provides shuttle service to the local schools, parks, and community centers for just 25 cents a ride. Connect Southwest LA will also ensure that new development complements the area and supports a healthier and safer environment for walking and biking. Additionally, it ensures the neighborhoods’ historically significant single family residential areas, busy commercial corridors, and multi-family housing are within close range of job centers, amenities and attractions in the region.

“We are appreciative that the boundaries of this Plan were expanded to  incorporate Southwest College, what residents view as one of the major epicenters of this community,” said Henry Porter from the Southwest Community Association. “This effort will provide opportunities for better circulation and transportation access for students and community members alike, which in turn leads to a better quality of life for us all.”

Destination Health: Solving Homelessness

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green, M.D., joined a panel of experts in San Francisco to reflect on homelessness as a public health crisis and to explore potential solutions. Destination Health: Solving Homelessness was the first of Kaiser Permanente’s Thought Leadership series on the future of health.


Restructuring LA County’s Juvenile Justice System


The Board of Supervisors voted to explore moving Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system out of the Probation Department into another agency, with the goal of creating a rehabilitative, health-focused and care-first system.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, they called for creating a Youth Justice Work Group to make recommendations for creating a system that truly meets the needs of young people in the justice system, noting almost 90 percent of them have an open mental health case.

“Shifting towards a rehabilitative and healing model that builds on a youth’s strengths is not just ideal but necessary,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This Board must ask itself if the structure of the Probation Department itself is limiting and even counterproductive in the pursuit of reform. If the County is to meet its obligation of adequately addressing the rehabilitative needs of the youth in its care, it must acknowledge that the juvenile camps and halls model is fundamentally flawed, and that housing supervision and services within an agency oriented toward law enforcement may be the wrong approach.”

“All the recent research on juvenile justice points to the need for a care-first approach,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “Punitive approaches have not been shown to make things any better, but rather to worsen them over time. This motion asks an inclusive group of County and community stakeholders to meet and develop guidance, along with a consultant with appropriate expertise, to think through whether this work might be moved out of the Probation Department, and, where it might better be housed. The care-first approach, if done right, can be transformational in the lives of some of our most vulnerable kids, and this motion will provide us with the thoughtful advice we need to consider our options and achieve our goal.”

The motion is consistent with one of the newly released recommendations of the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) which, after 14 public hearings, determined the Board should “remove the Juvenile Services Division from the jurisdiction of the Probation Department, thereby separating youth and adult probation services in L.A. County.” Noting 9 out of 10 Probation youth suffer from mental health issues, the PRIT said in its report, “It is truly remiss of L.A. County not to place these youth with an agency staffed with people who are subject matter experts in mental health diagnosis, assessment, education and treatment. This shift in responsibility and care would support youth in their ongoing healthy and safe development, and best prepare them to return to their families and communities, and deter them from penetrating further into the juvenile justice system and/or entering the adult justice system. Such an approach ultimately ensures public safety.”

To date, 38 states have organized or reorganized their juvenile justice systems to be separate departments, or to fall under a health or youth development agency. Governor Gavin Newsom recently reorganized California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, transitioning it out of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and into the Department of Health and Human Services.

LA County 2nd District Probation Commissioner Jan Levine, a retired juvenile court judge and longtime volunteer at Central Juvenile Hall and probation camps, said she has both witnessed and participated in efforts to reshape the current juvenile justice system from a punitive to a rehabilitative model over the last 20 years. “Today, when I inspect our juvenile halls, I am shocked by the deterioration of staff morale, and the evidence of youth acting out through vandalism and assault – on each other as well as on staff. I live with the fear that it’s only a matter of time before someone – youth or staff – will end up severely injured or worse. I know first-hand that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hardworking, well-meaning, dedicated Probation employees. However, I have reached the conclusion that the juvenile arm of this department, as currently structured and staffed, cannot accomplish the structural changes necessary to become a place that supports either the youth whose care it is responsible for, or the employees who are to deliver that care. For those reasons, I strongly support the Supervisor’s motion.”

“This is the right time for transformative redesign because Probation caseloads in LA County have dropped by some 50 percent or more to historic loads, and eight camps and one juvenile hall have closed,” said Patricia Suong, youth justice policy director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund-California. “We can further reduce our reliance on the Probation system by imagining another system of care altogether.”

Judge Mike Nash (ret.), director of the County’s Office of Child Protection, said, “It’s important that we have a system that focuses meaningfully on serving our young people in a way that is different from adults… one that is meaningfully able to focus on the language and spirit of the Welfare Institutions Code, which mandates that we create a system that’s designed to provide care, treatment and guidance consistent with the best interests of youth and the public.”

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, who oversees educational services at juvenile justice facilities, said, “The LA County Office of Education already works hand-in-hand with Probation, the Department of Mental Health, and many other community organizations to better serve our students.  I think that it’s important that we take time to explore what we’re doing, to evaluate whether or not it’s working, and to think about how we may be able to improve the services that we’re providing to our children and families.”

Currently, Los Angeles County’s Probation Department has a budget of almost $1 billion and supervisory responsibility for more than 40,000 adult clients and about 8,000 youth, more than 900 of whom are in juvenile halls, probation camps, and other facilities.

Continuing the Work of Reforming the Jail System

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hears testimony at the August 13, 2019 meeting. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

After terminating a contract to build a mental health treatment facility, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn to study the feasibility of demolishing Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), address its most significant maintenance needs in the meantime, and develop a forward-looking long-term strategy for reforming Los Angeles County’s criminal justice system.

The motion also directed the County’s Chief Executive Officer to reconstitute a working group to synthesize the latest research on effective criminal justice reform in order to make recommendations for replacing Men’s Central Jail. The group was also tasked with looking into whether funds from the cancelled contract could be used instead for strategies to scale up alternatives to incarceration, ensure humane treatment of incarcerated individuals, and other priorities.

“I fundamentally believe that we have an obligation to create a criminal justice system that is fair, ensures public safety and accountability, and also offers diversion when appropriate, particularly for those with clinical needs,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Directors of the Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry and the Departments of Health Services, Mental Health, and Public Health testify at the August 13, 2019 board meeting. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

“While there may be consensus about the need to demolish Men’s Central Jail, the more important question of what should replace it, and how this will fit into our comprehensive strategy for criminal justice reform, remains unresolved,” he added. “As responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, we need to take the time to do this right and ensure we make the most of this investment, not only in financial resources but, more importantly, in human lives.”

“Canceling the McCarthy contract was necessary, but it can’t end there. Men’s Central Jail remains a decrepit facility that needs to be demolished as soon as possible and replaced,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “Today we are moving forward with a thoughtful and deliberative approach to replacing Men’s Central Jail with a facility that more effectively and humanely treats mental illness, while at the same time expanding our diversion efforts so that people who don’t belong in jail don’t end up there in the first place.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the Board should take advantage of several soon-to-be-released reports by experts in the field, and factor in the potential impact of pending initiatives such as bail reform.

He also called for both critiquing and building on the successes of the County’s psychiatric urgent care centers, mental evaluation teams, the sobering center – all created within the last few years; the Office of the Diversion and Reentry, whose work is being scaled up; and a first-of-its-kind behavioral health center, which will open in 2020 in what used to be the King/Drew Medical Center.

ABC7 EYEWITNESS NEWSMAKERS: Homeless task force co-chairs explain right to shelter

LOS ANGELES (ABC) — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointed co-chairs of the state homelessness task force appeared together on Eyewitness Newsmakers, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Ridley-Thomas is calling for a state of emergency over the homeless crisis, saying the declaration would speed plans for a right to shelter. That’s a controversial shelter proposal providing beds for the homeless and compelling them to accept them. He said, “We believe that a right to housing is fundamental in the context of a democratic society. We want to cause it to move forward because of the urgency of the hour. Therefore we call for a state of emergency. It would cause us to have more tools to help those who are in desperate need of our intervention.”

You can read more about the supervisor’s proposal here.

Since they proposed a right to shelter policy, the task force co-chairs have heard from critics who say it would make it a crime to be homeless and shelters would be warehouses. They say they would change the New York model their proposal is based on.

Steinberg said, “We can improve on New York’s right to shelter that’s been around four decades, with admitted flaws, because they haven’t worked hard enough to actually join the intensive services with case management.”

Ridley-Thomas added, “We take the position this is not about criminalizing the poor or the homeless. It is about restoring dignity and worth and purpose to their lives.”

Critics also worry that money for shelters will take away from funding for permanent supportive housing. Steinberg said that’s not the case. “It is not shelter versus permanent housing, and we’re going to change the name of this ‘right to shelter’ here, right on your show. It is the right to have a roof over your head. It’s the right to housing.”

The co-chairs also talked about rent stabilization that doesn’t kill the incentive to build affordable apartments, but at the same time, protects tenants.

To read the full story, click here.