Update On Using CPRA To Get Advance Notice Of Homeless Encampment Cleanups: In Theory It’s Working Fine, But In Practice Not So Much


Previous installments in this series:


LA Sanitation getting honored in City Hall in 2015.  Just one time maybe they could try cleaning up 200 N. Spring Street and catering a meal at a homeless encampment instead of the other way around.  We'd all be better off, friends.
LA Sanitation getting honored in City Hall in 2015. Just one time maybe they could try cleaning up 200 N. Spring Street and catering a meal at a homeless encampment instead of the other way around. We’d all be better off, friends.
This morning I have to report to you two developments in my ongoing project to use the California Public Records Act to get the City of Los Angeles to publicly release advance notice of its planned cleanups of homeless encampments. First of all, on October 31 I made yet another request for various kinds of records dated in the future. On November 8, Letitia Gonzalez sent me a number of items, which I’ll share with you below. You may recall that Letitia was responsible for my one success so far in this project, sending me notice on September 28 of a cleanup on September 29. However, this time, not so much. After the break there’s a list of what she sent, what I asked for, and what I think it means.1 There are also some emails from the Central City East Association (part of the material published on Thursday) showing that LA Sanitation does give advance notice of cleanups in some cases.

    • What I asked for: The electronic originals of all schedules or lists showing HE2 locations where notifications are to be posted which are dated in the future on the day you fulfill this request.
    • What they sent: Six page list of encampment locations — with authorization numbers, locations, expiration dates, and so on. This will be useful if you have some independent way of monitoring a given encampment, but not so much if you want to know what day they’re going to clean it up.
    • What it means: Not much. This is precisely what I asked for, although it hadn’t occurred to me that it wouldn’t be much use for actually showing up while they were working. It will be very useful for making future CPRA requests, as it shows locations and authorization numbers.
    • What I asked for: The electronic originals of all HE cleanup schedules and/or calendars which are dated in the future on the day you fulfill this request.
    • What they sent: Calendar showing cleanups for November — This is useful, but not as useful as it might seem.3
    • What it means: It shows which Council Districts are scheduled for which days through November. It also includes OHS4 days. The problem is, of course, that Council Districts are huge, so that knowing a few weeks in advance which Districts they’re going to be in doesn’t seem as if it’d be that useful in determining exactly where they will be working. There may well be uses for this that I haven’t thought of.
    • What I asked for: The electronic originals of all advance notification posters for HE cleanups which are dated in the future on the day you fulfill this request.
    • Proof of 72 hour advance posting of an impending cleanup on November 8, 2016.  Click to enlarge.
      Proof of 72 hour advance posting of an impending cleanup on November 8, 2016. Click to enlarge.
    • What they sent:
    • What it means:
      • The first item is the gold standard for this project. It’s a detailed listing of encampments to be cleaned, their locations, and the order in which each sanitation team will handle the encampment. This would have been perfect if they hadn’t sent it to me at 2 p.m. on November 8 rather than on November 7 or earlier. These are produced at least a few days in advance,5 so it’s a sure thing that on November 8 they could have sent me schedules like this one for the 9th or later. Getting these schedules at the same time they send them out to Council Districts will be a major success for this project. Note, however, that this schedule, as useful as it would have been if they’d sent it in a timely manner, is not actually responsive to my request.
      • The second item is related to what I asked for, but it’s not what I asked for. It’s interesting, though. Here’s the story. Their protocol for HE cleanup requires them to post notices 72 hours in advance. These notices are prepared on a computer. As soon as they hit save for the last time the notice becomes a public record, and since it has to be posted by 8:30 a.m. 72 hours before the cleanup starts, it’s almost certainly finished by 96 or more hours in advance of the cleanup to allow for printing, distribution to the posting teams, and so on. Getting a copy of the notices would reveal the locations of the cleanups in advance. Hence they’re highly desirable. Also, note that, unlike many records, these cannot conceivably be exempt from release. The unusual certainty in this case flows from section 6254.5 of CPRA, which states in part that: whenever a state or local agency discloses a public record which is otherwise exempt from this chapter, to any member of the public, this disclosure shall constitute a waiver of the exemptions specified in Section 6254, 6254.7, or other similar provisions of law. Since the very purpose of the record is to be disclosed in public in advance of the HE cleanup it announces, LA San can’t very well say it’s exempt. I never ever yet have utilized section 6253(a) of CPRA, which states unequivocally that Public records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record, except as hereafter provided. However, if there ever was a case where it would be essential to drop into a City office and demand to see some records immediately, this would be it. We know they have the records at least the day before. We know the records are not exempt from release. It would seem that they would have absolutely no excuse under the law for withholding at least tomorrow’s notices today.

So that’s what’s going on with the advance notice of HE cleanup project. Next, here’s some interesting and relevant, although probably not dispositive, material from the CCEA emails I published recently. First, though, some background is necessary. First of all, there are at least two distinct programs under which the City carries out HE cleanups. There is Operation Healthy Streets (OHS), which seems to have begun some time in 2012. This program operates only on Skid Row, and sticks to a predetermined rotating schedule of light and heavy cleanups. This is explained quite thoroughly on this fact sheet, produced and distributed by the City.

On the other hand, there is the Clean Streets Initiative (CSI). This was launched by Eric Garcetti via an Executive Directive in April 2015. While Garcetti’s directive sounds like CSI is all about picking up those illegally dumped couches that plague our City, it’s actually really about HE cleanup. There’s a clue to this in the directive itself, which makes the superficially innocuous claim that:

Everyone who lives, works, and visits here in Los Angeles should enjoy clean streets that are free from litter and debris. Our quality of life, our economic prosperity, and our health are all tied to the cleanliness of our streets, sidewalks, alleys, and other public spaces.

If you’ve made it to this point in my screed, if you’re still reading this blog after all these years, then you’re certainly tuned in enough to understand that whenever these people mention the Q-word, some homeless people are about to get it in the neck. This fascinating policy document produced by LAHSA explains the situation clearly enough:

Modeled after OHS, the CSI is a partnership between the Mayor’s office, Street Services and Council District 1. Launched in November 2014, CSI has two teams that cleanup illegal dumping and encampments. Each team handles about 8 cleanup requests per day and together cover about 320 cleanup requests per month. In addition, each Council District gets one dedicated day per month where they select sites for a cleanup team. About 50% of the cleanup visits involve a homeless person. There are about 900 sites on the request list waiting to be cleaned up. 55% involve the presence of a homeless person.

A checklist from a City-produced OHS fact sheet showing the requirement that comprehensive cleaning actions be posted 48 hours in advance.
A checklist from a City-produced OHS fact sheet showing the requirement that comprehensive cleaning actions be posted 48 hours in advance.

For our purposes, though, the big difference between OHS and CSI is that LA Sanitation releases the dates of OHS cleanups far in advance whereas, for whatever reason, they’re extremely reluctant to release dates of CSI cleanups in advance. This is true even though, e.g., both require publicly posted advance notice of cleanups.

Anyway, the fact that OHS actions are announced far in advance makes it not so surprising when CCEA Director of Operations Edward Camarillo sends an email to Los Angeles City environmental compliance inspector Gonzalo Barriga6 asking him where OHS is going to be active in three days. Or when CCEA Deputy Director of Operations Fred Faustino sends an email reassuring some property owner7 that the City will be clearing the homeless off her block the next day. However, it is still surprising to read this fascinating series of emails in which Rose Park of famed vegan handbag manufacturer LANY Style8 emails everyone at 8:56 a.m.:

Can you swing by our street (550 Crocker) today or this week? They are starting to encroach into our gate area and are blocking the sidewalk again.

To be answered a mere 5 freaking minutes later, at 9:01 a.m., by LA Sanitation Assistant Director Adel Hagekhalil, cc-ing the whole crowd, but really writing to LA Sanitation chief environmental compliance inspector Steve Pedersen:

Steve … Please respond immediately.

Thanks

And Steve’s interpretation of “immediately” is a little different than his boss’s, perhaps, because it took him 3 hours and 44 minutes to respond thusly:

LASAN is working on revamping and expanding our operation healthy streets program. We expect the new OHS schedule to be implemented very soon.

On Wednesday July 27th we will conduct a comprehensive cleaning of the 500 block of Crocker.

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening here. Superficially it looks as if Steve’s boss told him to soothe the savage property owner, which Steve attempted to do by announcing that OHS was kicking into high gear and, by the way, there was going to be a big cleanup in one week.9 So if the new OHS schedule wasn’t out yet, how did he know the date and location of a cleanup more than a week in advance? And how could he feel sure enough to state it publicly in such a high stakes situation, what with angry property owners and his boss all breathing down his neck? Especially after Senior Management Analyst Veretta Everheart told me with what seemed at the time to be a straight face that she couldn’t give me advance notice of cleanups because the schedules were freaking “living documents” that were subject to constant change. How come no one’s telling Ms. Rose Park that they can’t reassure her because of the putative “living document” exemption? How come they have three freaking levels of senior LA San management tripping over one another to give her notice of an impending cleanup MORE THAN SEVEN DAYS in advance? Well, you can guess the answer as well as I can, and that’s all for today, if you’re still with me after this monster post!10


Image of LA Sanitation shindig is a public record, and I got it from here. It’s not available on Archive.Org because LA Sanitation uses a robots.txt file to disallow archiving. And they’re not the only ones. Just for instance, the esteemed Mike Bonin does the same thing. It’s shameful. These websites are not only public records but they’re part of this City’s history. Archive.Org will preserve every version of them in perpetuity at no charge to anyone for the use of future scholars, citizens, journalists, etc. And either out of nefariousitude, ignorance, or (thinking of you, Mike) sheer pigheadedness, they refuse to let their sites be archived. The City is already in enough trouble over its cavalier attitude toward record retention. There’s no reason whatsoever not to fix this problem. And as much as he irritates the hell out of me, I have to admit that at least Eric Garcetti isn’t guilty of this arrogant nonsense. His website is at www.lamayor.org, and as you can see here, he allows it to be preserved on Archive.Org. In at least this one area, José Huizar is also on the side of the angels.

  1. This material is also available on Archive.Org, which may be preferable, if only because they OCR it for you.
  2. Homeless Encampment. This is their term of art, so I use it in my communications to them. I’m not sure why, or at least I’m not saying.
  3. Which is why I didn’t hurry up and post it on the day I got it. But now it occurs to me that other people might have had a use for it. At least it shows that LA San will release these particular records, so you can ask for them yourself if you can use them. Let me know if you get anything, and I’ll be happy to publish it here if you do.
  4. Operation Healthy Streets, to be discussed a little below. This is an ongoing cleanup operation on Skid Row which has a detailed schedule published up to a year in advance.
  5. Which I know because they send them to the affected Council Districts at least a few days in advance. I have proof of many instances of this.
  6. Who seems to be something of a hero when he’s not helping the death star BID oppress the homeless. You can read here about how he helped catch some creepy illegal dumpers.
  7. Or facilitating the reassurance, anyway.
  8. Not kidding about the vegan handbag thing. You gotta love this City, eh? From their “about” page: “LANY is actually PETA-approved vegan. We want our LANY peeps to proudly hold their LANY purse knowing that no animals were harmed.” People from East of San Bernardino sit around at freaking TGI Fridays or the equivalent most nights yammering on about the land of fruits and nuts or whatever, never knowing that we’ve been through multiple order-of-magnitude paradigm shifts since that old joke was funny (if it ever was). Not only do we have vegans, but their handbags are vegan. Not only are their handbags vegan, they’re freaking PETA-approved vegan. And that’s what they’re out on Crocker Street using to bop the homeless on their heads. The irony is strong in this one, friends.
  9. The savage property owners weren’t particularly soothed by this information, as you can see if you read the whole email chain, but that’s a subject for another day.
  10. It could have been even more monsterous.. Also in that same email chain there is some very suggestive material about Skid Row feeding program 5 Breads and 2 Fish that’s apparently ruining everything for everyone in the 500 block of Crocker Street. I just don’t have time to track down all these leads, let alone to write about them!
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