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Mayor-elect Karen Bass


Rep. Karen Bass (D-37) felt compelled to become mayor of Los Angeles. A native of the city — even though she had been spending a lot of time in Washington D.C. for the past 12 years, and before then in Sacramento for six years — she could see the frustration building here.

“I did not want someone to take over and dial us back to the 90’s,” she said, noting that at that time crack cocaine use was criminalized, instead of being handled as a health issue, a social issue and an economic issue.

Bass feared the same type of criminalization could happen to those who are homeless. They could just be locked up and put away.

“The mood of the city is such,” she said. “People are so angry and demoralized, we’re in one of those moments which could result in ‘let’s just get rid of these people’.”

Bass felt obligated to insert herself into the race to prevent that possible criminalization.

“I could not live with myself, to know that was going to happen,” she told Tavis Smiley on his KBLA radio show last Thursday morning before her first press conference.

At that  press conference, Bass assured the city that on day one of her administration — December 12—she would declare homelessness here as a state of emergency. She plans to use her contacts in the county, Sacramento and Washington D.C. to help get additional funds for the city where she said Angelenos just want to stroll down their sidewalks without feeling as if their lives are in danger.

Bass called into OurWeekly after the press conference.

“I do think how the homeless problem is covered right now is broken,” she said.

U.S. District Judge David Carter plans to meet with Bass before signing off on an agreement settling a lawsuit over the local government’s response to the homelessness crisis. The county agreed to pay the city $53 million during the first year and up to $60 million per year for the following four years, to finance 6,700 beds for the homeless, who are overwhelmingly Brown and Black.

LA county includes 87 other cities in addition to Los Angeles.

Bass wants to create a different approach, where the city and the county are joined together on the issue to house the homeless.

“And everybody has skin in the game,” she said, noting that she is especially concerned about the issue as it affects people of color. She noted that more than 40,000 people here have no housing and many of them are African-American.

Bass helped launch the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment in 1990 and helped lead the organization for 14 years before leaving for Sacramento for the state assembly, where she represented West LA, Culver City and Baldwin Hills.

Community Coalition, as it is now known, works to unify the South LA community and put power in the hands of the people by creating, influencing and changing public policy; building leadership; and launching action campaigns.

It’s hoped that those same kinds of unifying, coalition-building tactics could work on a larger scale, with the city’s diverse population of 3.9 million people. This would be especially welcome in light of the recent City Hall scandal, where the president of the city council resigned after making racist statements about Blacks and Oxacan people.

Bass’ former co-workers believe she can make a difference.

“Karen is the experienced mayor that Los Angeles needs and deserves, and we are proud to stand with her through this next journey of her leadership,” said Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, executive vice president at Community Coalition. “Following the recent and developing LA City Council news, we are grateful for a leader who will help guide the city in doubling down on multiracial solidarity and cultivate an inclusive environment for marginalized communities.”

The City Hall scandal is another issue Bass sees as a circumstance that makes it possible to do something positive.

“It gives us the opportunity to inspect, examine and double down,” she said on the subject which broke into the news the weekend of Oct. 9.

“I convened civic leaders on that Tuesday,” Bass recalled. “We asked civic leaders to convene a series of dialogues around the city… to look at structural inequities in the city and talk about how to address some of those inequities.”

As the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles, Bass has fewer than three weeks to pull together an administration, many of whom may be part of her transition team. Bass said her administration would reflect Los Angeles—which is approximately 50% Latino.

One of the structural inequities that exists in the city is the environment of South LA itself, which is surrounded by freeways. Many families here are familiar with the toxic pollution, asthma and “diesel death” this can cause.

Bass said the issue has to go beyond getting more electric vehicles on the road. Right now that option is too expensive for some families.

“The problem we have with freeways is big trucks,” she said. “The current administration has to make sure they follow through on the goals.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti set a goal of having zero emissions at both the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach by 2035. That will reduce the ports’ environmental impact. Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy-duty trucks are significant contributors to climate change, as well.

In Bass’ plan to address the homeless crisis, she mentions that resolutions must address the mental illnesses some of the homeless population deal with. In light of the recent stabbing at a downtown Target store by a homeless man, the mayor-elect was asked if she is adjusting her strategy when it comes to offering mental services to people who live on the street.

“Not adjusting actually, but making sure that street dwellers who happen to be a danger to themselves or a danger to others can be put into conservatorship,” she said. “It’s not right at all that those so profoundly mentally ill are on the streets.”

At the news conference, Bass said she received a concession call from her former opponent, Rick Caruso.

“Who is someone who I hope continues his civic participation in the city that we both love,” she said. “I have great respect for his commitment to serving the people of Los Angeles.”

Bass went on to thank her supporters for choosing her as mayor and reminded them that being a coalition builder is not just coming together to sing “Kumbaya,” being a coalition builder is about marshaling all the resources, skills and talents of the city. Marshaling resources to solve problems.

She compared the city’s situation to a “code blue” in a hospital’s emergency department, where  it takes a team to save a life.

“To the people of Los Angeles, my message is this: We are going to solve homelessness. We are going to prevent and respond urgently to crime. Los Angeles is no longer going to be unaffordable for working families — good jobs and affordable housing construction are on the way,” she said, promising that the city.

“My administration will bring everyone to the table. The challenges we face affect us all, and all or us must be a part of our solutions,” she said. “Mark my words — we will get big things done together.”