L.A. on the Record: A new leader for LAHSA

A woman in a crowd of people, some with signs
Va Lecia Adams Kellum, president and chief executive of St. Joseph Center, will head the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Ben Oreskes and Dakota Smith here with a quick look at the latest headlines in Los Angeles politics and government.

As the saying goes: “Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.”

Truer words have never been spoken about the structure of Los Angeles’ response to homelessness and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which sits at the center of the crisis. It’s the agency with homelessness in its name but little actual sway over the construction of affordable housing or resources available to confront substance use disorder or mental health crises.

It’s also where elected officials from across the city and county have focused their ire in recent years. For some, it’s been about LAHSA’s ineffectiveness. To others, the agency doesn’t pay enough attention to smaller cities. The sum of all this is an embattled agency whose leader resigned last spring over a conflict with the board and that ran through three interim executive directors in 2022.

And yet, the agency, which is run by a board made up of city and county appointees, has about $730 million devoted to addressing homelessness countywide. That largess is spread in many directions and is devoted to many different geographic locales.

So it raised some eyebrows that the newly named chief executive of LAHSA, Va Lecia Adams Kellum, will spend several months working for Mayor Karen Bass before stepping into her new role.

Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the county, but it still has been a source of frustration for the county’s 87 other cities that they get proportionally fewer services and less attention. It raises the question of how having someone who has been a close advisor to the Los Angeles mayor will change that equation.

Getting a Bass ally into this role does potentially signal a change in the city’s orientation and attitude toward LAHSA — one that views the agency less as an obstruction that should be circumvented and more as one that can aid and augment the resources that city government is already putting forward.

Bass and Adams Kellum have known each other for decades. Their respective focus on anti-poverty work has led to an aligned worldview and similar priorities. During the campaign, Bass consulted Adams Kellum. And in the first month of her administration, Bass worked closely with Adams Kellum to make sure the mayor’s Inside Safe program was going smoothly. When she starts as an advisor in Bass’ office, she’ll be continuing that work.

But the ties are even deeper. Bass’ daughter Yvette Lechuga started working at St. Joseph Center, the nonprofit Adams Kellum has run, during the pandemic.

Still, Adams Kellum says Bass becoming mayor wasn’t the only reason she took the job.

“Karen is giving everybody hope, but it’s not just Karen that gives me hope. It’s Karen and the Board of Supervisors that gives me hope. LAHSA is a joint-powers authority. It doesn’t matter how well things go with one part if you don’t have both parts,” she told The Times on Thursday.

“Obviously the the joint emergency [declarations], the locking arms. The actual material reality of showing a true partnership. Those are the kinds of things that really blew my mind. I was still contemplating, I wasn’t sure. I love my job. ... But it showed me some things that made me feel like I could do it,” Adams Kellum said.

She was recruited for the job several years ago when her predecessor, Heidi Marston, got the post. At that moment Adams Kellum wasn’t interested, but then she spent more time during the pandemic and the racial tumult of 2020 thinking about the broader structural challenges that drive people into homelessness and how best to design a bureaucracy to confront those challenges.


So when a recruiter and several LAHSA commissioners began to court her again after the election, in late November, she indicated she was interested. She said she didn’t know whether she would have been if Rick Caruso had won.

She leaves behind a nonprofit that has done a lot of the on-the-ground work when it comes to clearing encampments and ensuring that homeless people have a place indoors to stay. That work — particularly in Venice — has broadly been applauded, though some residents and activists found reason to be frustrated.

One was longtime Venice homeowner and activist Mark Ryavec, who said in an email that “her leadership of the effort to clean up Venice Beach was about 2/3rds successful,” adding that there are still more people in need of help.

“What was called for was the constant presence of a counselor or two working with the LAPD and Sanitation as they continued to try to make the Boardwalk and beach safe for the public,” Ryavec wrote.

Public officials and services providers — even harsh critics of LAHSA — indicated broad excitement over the appointment, stemming mostly from Adams Kellum’s work in various communities on street homelessness.

“It seemed like the most hopeful time to make change because as all of us have said, the key is the city and county working together,” Adams Kellums said.

State of play

SCHIFF’S IN: Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) has jumped into the U.S. Senate race for the seat held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Others already in or considering running include Reps. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Ro Khanna (D-Fremont.)

The Democratic contenders don’t differ much when it comes to ideology, so this Senate race is likely to focus on the candidates’ personality and brand, Kimberly Nalder, a Sacramento State University political scientist, told The Times. Meanwhile, Politico reports that Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), LAUSD board member Nick Melvoin and actor Ben Savage have opened committees to run for Schiff’s seat. Former L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer, who dropped out of the L.A. mayor’s race last year after failing to gain traction, previously told Politico that he was “very seriously” considering running if Schiff gave up the seat.

— UNHAPPY IN CD14: A Times poll finds that voters in Councilmember Kevin de León’s district have little confidence in him after the racist audio scandal. “Just over half think he should resign, compared with fewer than a quarter who want him to stay in office and 18% who were undecided; 9% did not answer the question.”

LAHSA NUMBERS UNDER SCRUTINY: A survey conducted by the Rand Corp. reported much higher numbers of homelessness in some neighborhoods than those tallied in LAHSA’s annual estimate. Rand researchers found large increases in unsheltered homelessness, with rises of 13% in skid row, 14.5% in Hollywood and 32% in Venice, averaging out at 18%. By contrast, LAHSA found significant decreases in those three communities — raising questions about how the agency’s figures.

— TENANT PROTECTIONS: The various prongs of the tenant protection package approved by City Council last week were in different stages of the legislative process, meaning some have already been signed into law while other elements still needed further council approvals. The council voted Friday to back a provision that establishes a minimum threshold for eviction for tenants who fall behind on rent.


— BASS ON HOUSING: A few weeks back, Bass sat with Liam Dillon and Ben to talk housing and offered a thought that sent Twitter buzzing. During a “true or false” section, Bass said it was “completely false” that the construction of market-rate homes in disadvantaged areas does not cause gentrification or displacement. Her answer elicited a thoughtful exchange, and Bloomberg’s Justin Fox looks at how her view, which runs counter to the prevailing academic research, is more common than most might think.

“DO SOMETHING”: Vice President Kamala Harris visited Monterey Park this week and told reporters that 40 mass killings have already taken place in the U.S. so far this year. “Can they do something? Yes,” Harris said when asked whether Congress, now split after Republicans narrowly took control of the House this month, has the capacity to act on gun violence. “Should they do something? Yes.”

APPOINTMENT O’CLOCK: Bass announced a slew of new appointments in her office. They include Stephanie Venegas, director of scheduling; Leigh Hoffman-Kipp, director of strategic initiatives; Annetta Wells, director of community engagement; Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of energy and sustainability; Karren Lane, deputy mayor of community empowerment; and Randall Winston, deputy mayor of public works.

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND?: Local politicians celebrated the cleanup of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon. But a CalMatters investigation found that some of the Exide waste was shipped to Arizona. The investigation found that while California touts itself as an environmental leader, the state sends nearly half its toxic waste across its borders, often to states with weaker regulations.

— HOMELESS DEATH: A person who was believed to be homeless was struck and killed by a Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation vehicle Wednesday morning in Sherman Oaks, according to police.

What are Council District 6 voters looking for?

Ballots will be mailed out in a little over five weeks for the City Council District 6 election to succeed former City Council President Nury Martinez, who stepped down in October after the infamous leaked audio.

It’s worth noting that Caruso got more votes in District 6 than Bass in the recent mayor’s race, according to voter data surveyed by the campaign team representing candidate Marco Santana. You can see The Times’ city map of the results here.

Does that mean that an outsider candidate has a better chance in the race? The April 4 election will tell us.


The candidates who qualified for the ballot are: Marisa Alcaraz, environmental policy director for Los Angeles; City Councilmember Curren Price; Rose Grigoryan, who worked for Armenian TV station ARTN-Shant, according to her website; Isaac Kim, who runs men’s skin and hair care company Pilot Men’s Grooming and volunteers through his church, Hillside LA, to help homeless people; Imelda Padilla, who has worked for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Pacoima Beautiful and Martinez; Marco Santana, director of engagement at L.A. Family Housing who also worked for Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima); Antoinette Scully, national organizer at the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation and founder of the Valley Justice Coalition/Collective; and Douglas Sierra, who works at management consulting firm Monitor Deloitte and A Place Called Home, a youth and community center in South Central.

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Branimir Kvartuc, who was communications director and senior advisor to former L.A. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino, launched a strategic communications firm, Branimir & Associates, according to his LinkedIn page. Ana Guerrero, former advisor and one-time chief of staff to former Mayor Eric Garcetti, has launched Guerrero Strategies, she announced on LinkedIn.

—Garcetti’s parents, Gil and Sukey Garcetti, have now spent at least $90,000 on lobbyists to help get the former mayor’s nomination to become U.S. ambassador to India through the Senate, according to the records made public this month by the secretary of the Senate.

— On the docket for next week: Streets For All is hosting a “mobility debate” for the City Council District 6 race Thursday at 5 p.m. Also, District 6 candidate Antoinette Scully is holding a meet and greet Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Quickly Boba in Lake Balboa.

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