LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mayor Eric Garcetti didn’t create the homeless crisis in Los Angeles, but he owns it.
The two-term Democrat who not long ago flirted with a presidential run has been besieged by complaints about homeless encampments that have gotten so widespread he’s facing a potential recall campaign.
The low-key mayor who in 2016 helped convince voters to borrow $1.2 billion to construct housing for the homeless has found himself in an awkward position — explaining why the problems have only gotten worse.
Figures released earlier this month showed a 16% jump in Los Angeles’ homeless population over the last year, pegging it at 36,300 — the size of a small city.
That’s no surprise to anyone who lives or works downtown, where tents crowd sidewalks within sight of City Hall and the stench of urine fills the air.
The homeless crisis has become “a state of emergency,” said Alexandra Datig, who is leading the recall effort.
Getting a recall question before voters is something of a longshot. The threshold to reach the ballot requires over 300,000 petition signatures. The effort to do so nonetheless represents at least a symbolic statement about public unrest over the problem.
Garcetti talked at length Wednesday about the issue that is testing the limits of what the city can do. Asked about the recall effort, he said he wouldn’t be distracted by “political games.”
The mayor also announced new funding to boost cleanups around homeless encampments while providing mobile restrooms and showers. The city could also employ homeless people to clean up around encampments.
While housing for the homeless is expanding, the challenge has been a flood of new people landing on the streets.
“It’s a crisis unlike anything we’ve seen before,” he told reporters. “We are spending every waking moment to confront this crisis.”
Last year Garcetti was traveling the country as a potential presidential candidate, visiting Iowa and other key 2020 states and talking up Los Angeles as an ascendant city booming with jobs, development and new rail lines. He announced in January he wouldn’t run, saying he wanted to stay in L.A., “where we have so much exciting work to finish.”
As a possible candidate, homelessness was seen as an issue that he would have had a hard time explaining away.
Freeway overpasses are lined with tents, and it’s a common sight to see someone pushing a shopping cart filled with belongings through downtown streets. While once largely confined to the notorious Skid Row neighborhood, encampments have spread citywide.
Datig is listed online as publisher of a political issues website who supported President Donald Trump in 2016.
Garcetti said more help was needed from the state and federal governments. A widening economic gap has left many behind as the stock market climbs. And soaring rents have shut out lower-income people.
“I feel very strongly about the mission that I’m on,” the mayor said. “We are housing more homeless people than ever before and ... we are going to redouble our efforts.”
“This isn’t just for a mayor to solve,” he added. “This requires all of us.”