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Judge tells Norwalk, LA County to work out coronavirus-spurred feud over homeless at hotel

They’re to be back in court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Los Angeles Superior Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner on Monday, April 27, asked officials from Norwalk and Los Angeles County to work out their  disagreements over a county plan to rent more than 200 rooms to homeless people, who are in danger of contracting coronavirus, in a Norwalk hotel.

They’re to be back in court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The county on Thursday sued the city after its City Council voted last Tuesday to impose a temporary ban to prevent renting out space to homeless without prior city approval. The council’s action came after city officials learned the week before of the contract with the hotel.

Citing city complaints about the county’s plan, Jessner said she thought two were not that far apart.

“My suggestion is take a day to sit down and meet and confer in a meaningful, professional and calm way. I don’t think there’s that much disagreement,” she said. “It sure seems like you all could sit down and figure these issues out.

 

Norwalk’s issues include that the hotel…

  • Is within 200 to 300 feet of homes and a half mile within two schools
  • Has six buildings and that are situated around a central courtyard, with various points of ingress and egress associated with each building
  • Does not comply with county fire codes for assisted living facilities, thereby creating a risk to the proposed “high risk” occupants

“This location, which is close to sensitive uses, together with the difficulties of securing the entry and exit points, along with the failure to comply with fire code requirements, raise serious concerns for the City from a health and safety perspective,” Norwalk City Manager Jesus Gomez wrote in a declaration for the judge.

The county’s plan to rent out the rooms is part of Project Roomkey, a strategy in which the state and counties are using federal disaster dollars to rent out space in hotels. In Norwalk’s case, the plan calls for renting to homeless who are 65 and older or others who have underlying conditions that would place them at heightened risk of they contract the virus.

So far, the county has secured more than 2,500 hotel and motel rooms at over 250 hotels across the region, Louis R. Miller, attorney for the county, said in court papers asking for a temporary restraining order against Norwalk.

Miller pursued the order on the basis that Norwalk was interfering with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order on coronavirus.

But Norwalk City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said the county never consulted with city officials over the use of the hotel. “The city had no opportunity to be at  the table,” Alvarez-Glasman said.

The strategy has drawn opposition in several cities, including Bell Gardens, Covina and Lawndale. Attorneys for Los Angeles County on April 17 filed a request for an emergency hearing with a federal judge, alleging that their court-ordered efforts to help house homeless people at risk of contracting the coronavirus are being stymied by objections from Lawndale and Bell Gardens.