Gov. Gavin Newsom: Cities That Block Hotels for the Homeless Will Be ‘Judged’ by History

As California scrambles to protect more than 150,000 homeless residents from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom shared some harsh words this past weekend for cities he accused of blocking the conversion of hotels and motels for emergency housing.

After touting the 10,974 vacant hotel rooms the state has acquired so far in a partnership with the federal government—roughly 4,200 of which are now occupied with homeless residents—Newsom charged some municipalities that have resisted the initiative with letting “not-in-my-backyard” politics interfere with a public health imperative.

“I just want to encourage those cities that are blocking efforts like this to consider themselves in the context of others…to consider their actions in the context and annals of history,” said Newsom, speaking outside a Motel 6 in Campbell that will be repurposed for the homeless. “They’ll judge themselves, not just be judged by others, by the extent they help the least among us.”

While Newsom declined to name specific problematic cities and praised others he said were eager to participate, his remarks suggest that the state’s unprecedented effort to convert hotel rooms to homeless housing has run up against a barrier beyond even the massive logistical hurdles of acquiring and staffing the hotels: political and legal challenges from local elected officials reluctant to allow COVID-19 positive and symptomatic homeless to be housed in their communities.

Resistance to the hotel initiative has surfaced most publicly in Southern California. The cities of Laguna Woods and Laguna Hills in Orange County, and Lawndale and Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County, have mounted legal challenges to hotels that inked emergency deals with county governments.

State, county and local governments across California have long fought over where homeless housing should be located, with few neighborhoods volunteering to devote land and resources to a population many residents associate with crime, mental illness and declining property values.

As the state prioritizes hotel rooms for the homeless who have tested positive for the virus or are symptomatic, a potent cocktail of fear is developing in some neighborhoods, say homelessness advocates.

“What is at stake right now takes this outside the realm of a conversation about NIMBYism,” said Shayla Myers, attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “I think Gavin Newsom made the moral argument.”

A spokesman for the League of California Cities, which represents municipal interests in the Capitol, declined to comment on Newsom’s remarks.

Myers says that while she applauds Newsom’s rhetoric, advocates for the homeless wish the governor would exercise more of the emergency powers granted to him during the pandemic to commandeer hotels or override zoning rules and other state and local laws cities use to mount legal challenges.

“The governor of the state of California has extraordinary authority in this moment of time to take concrete steps to address this emergency,” Myers said. “He is not using that authority to protect unhoused residents of this state.”

Beyond the admonishments to reluctant cities, Newsom on Saturday announced a partnership with Motel 6 that could include 5,000 more rooms in 47 motels across the state. While the state has negotiated a lease template with Motel 6, counties will ultimately determine whether to utilize the rooms.

The agreement with Motel 6 includes language that Newsom said will allow local governments to convert the sites into permanent housing once the pandemic subsides.

Speaking with Newsom, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he hopes new rounds of federal funding will allow cash-strapped cities to avoid sending people who are homeless back to the streets. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost of the motels during the pandemic, but funding after the emergency order is lifted is uncertain.

“We don’t want these rooms simply open for a few weeks or a few months; let’s give counties and cities the dollars they need to purchase motels so we can really aggressively address the homelessness crisis that will be here well beyond the time this pandemic passes,” Liccardo said.

In another sign that the pandemic is still far from passing, Newsom reported that an additional 87 people had died as a result of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, taking the state’s total death toll from the pandemic past 1,000, and that hospitalizations for the disease had ticked up 1.3 percent. The number being treated in ICUs was little changed.

CalMatters.org is a nonpartisan media venture explaining state policies and politics.

6 Comments

    • Yes, they will be judged by history…as cities who put the health of the majority of their residents above some Kumbaya nonsense. Newsom remains tucked away in his mansion, drawing a paycheck, except for the times he comes out to spout oh-so-pious platitudes about the fringes of society as he presides over the destruction of our economy, the shredding of the Constitution he swore to uphold, and placing the entire state under house arrest.

  1. About an hour ago I was at the grocery store heading for the meat department, I was greeted by a foul smell of rotting meat and poop. I was ready to call the manager to complain about the stench coming from his department. I realized that it was coming from a older man digging through a cooler of $2.99 a pound chuck steak. Every inch of this guys was stained in grimy brown dirt. Oozing scabs on his bare legs and the back of his neck tell me this is homelessness third world style. How the hell are you going to put thousands of people in this condition into hotel rooms around the state at then expect them to be anything but a homeless refuge ever after? How would you keep these place clean and running?
    Please do help these people, put them into the rotunda of the state capitol, offices of the city and county.

    I can assure the tax payers that our vigilant politicians will be working hard to find housing appropriate for the condition of these people.

  2. “A potent cocktail of fear is developing…”
    Ooh! Somebody went to a mainstream media training seminar!

  3. Yet another reason not to stay in a Motel 6…EVER.
    On the other hand, it is a way to reduce homelessness. In fact, it may be the only move to try to end homelessness that will be effective. Put them all together and they will surely cross-contaminate. Another great idea from a Democrat snowflake, and further proof that liberalism is a mental disorder.

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