The business community put local leaders on the hot seat Thursday at the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Valley luncheon, an annual panel discussion that gives businesses the chance to pose questions about public policy to San Fernando Valley legislators.
The panel included L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian, District 2, San Fernando Valley; Councilman Paul Koretz, District 5, Encino; Councilman David Ryu, District 4, Sherman Oaks; L.A. Emergency Management Department General Manager Aram Sahakian; and David Wright, general manager of the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
Each leader was presented with questions that had been selected from submissions by chamber members. Featuring prominently among this year’s batch were queries on how leaders intended to respond to the rise of transient and homeless individuals camping out in front of local businesses, to which Koretz admitted there were no easy answers.
“We’ve found funding mechanisms that in the long-term I think will help a lot,” Koretz said. “In the short-term I’ve been working with synagogues, churches and other entities to provide space for the recreational vehicles people are living in.”
The city is testing out other measures to solve the problem, he added, including signs prohibiting recreational vehicles. One key focus will be on “family reunification,” Koretz said.
“There are a certain number of homeless whose families I think would be happy to take them in if they knew what was going on,” he said. “If we can try to make that connection at very little cost to us, we can get a certain number of people in the best possible circumstance.”
Also of interest to the business community were rising housing costs, which some fear are deterring talent from the region. Krekorian was asked how the city plans to respond to the consequences of Measure JJJ, a ballot measure passed last November that mandates the inclusion of affordable housing units and local labor in the construction of apartments that are approved with an exemption to planning rules. Businesses are concerned that developers are scrapping projects altogether in response, worsening the housing shortage.
Small developers are the ones hit hardest by the higher cost of building resulting from Measure JJJ, Krekorian said, a problem that the city hopes to mitigate.
“If we don’t increase our housing stock – if we don’t increase our density around the transit corridor – we’re never going to get a handle on the affordability challenge,” Krekorian said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal for expanding the city’s affordable housing trust through linkage fees – however unpopular with business owners – would prove a viable solution, Ryu insisted.
“It’s not just building new affordable housing, but preserving existing affordable housing stock,” Ryu said. “If new buildings are going to get some sort of bonuses, I think we should require them to build more affordable housing, if not workforce housing.”
Both city department managers took questions about disaster preparedness. Earthquakes in particular were top-of-mind – as they should be, the city emergency management department’s Sahakian noted.
“Not planning is planning for disaster,” he said. “It’s as simple is that.”
Rather than wait for the assistance of emergency responders, business owners should have disaster procedures in place and encourage their employees to do the same, Sahakian said. While the city is prepared for a major catastrophe, resources will likely be strained, he added.
“Let’s take this seriously,” he said. He ended his segment by giving out his cell phone number, encouraging business leaders to call him directly.
Other topics addressed included public pensions; the city’s new recycling program, street vending and fees and permitting for small business.