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Trump says California cities ‘destroying themselves’ with homelessness

President Trump
President Trump arrives at LAX on Tuesday afternoon.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump arrived in California on Tuesday with a new round of criticism over the homeless crisis gripping cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco but offering few concrete solutions or policy proposals.

Trump is in the state for a two-day visit, with stops for fundraising in Palo Alto, Beverly Hills and San Diego. The fundraisers are expected to bring in $15 million and will benefit Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee composed of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The trip sparked protests Tuesday both in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

In recent months, Trump has used the issue of homelessness to bash the deep-blue state in advance of the 2020 election.

While aboard Air Force One on Tuesday en route in San Francisco, he said he is considering the creation of an “individual task force” as a possible solution to homelessness, without providing more details.

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“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” he said, adding that the homelessness crisis is prompting residents of those cities to leave the country. “They can’t believe what’s happening.”

“We have people living in our … best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings ... where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” he said. “In many cases, they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up.”

The president said that he plans to discuss the topic further with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who joined him Tuesday in the Bay Area and then in L.A.

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According to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, he and Carson will meet on Wednesday to discuss housing issues, including homelessness. The meeting was requested by Carson.

California officials have largely been wary of the Trump administration’s intentions, concerned that the president wants to use homelessness and urban ills as a wedge for the 2020 campaign. But they have said that they are willing to work with Trump.

In a letter issued Monday and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and mayors and county supervisors from across the state, state officials asked for 50,000 more vouchers that would aid people most affected by California’s housing crisis. They also urged the Trump administration to provide incentives to landlords to accept vouchers.

“That’s a pretty remarkable opportunity, if they’re sincere in their desires,” Newsom said at a news conference. “If they’re insincere and this is, God forbid, about something else — politics, not good policy — then they’ll reject it outright. I hope that’s not the case.”

Last week, officials from Trump’s administration spent several days in Los Angeles meeting with city and county officials and homeless advocates. To the dismay of some local officials, the administration has said little publicly about any plans. Some speculate that the goal is to clear homeless encampments by moving people into government-run shelters on federal land.

On Monday, the White House floated a new goal: deregulation of the housing market to increase the supply of apartments, condominiums and homes.

Last week, representatives from the Department of Justice discussed possible “workarounds” with Los Angeles law enforcement union officials to deal with court settlements, rulings and lawsuits that have limited the way the LAPD can carry out enforcement efforts at encampments.

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While Trump addressed homelessness on Air Force One, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas campaigned on skid row, denouncing reports that the president is considering a plan to sweep people off the streets of Los Angeles and relocate them to shelters in warehouses.

The former El Paso congressman met with advocates at the Downtown Women’s Center, where he pledged to strengthen federal efforts to combat homelessness.

Beto O’Rourke
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke takes a walking tour of skid row in downtown L.A. with homeless advocate Suzette Shaw.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

O’Rourke said the path out of homelessness “cannot be using the police to sweep people off of the streets, to warehouse people out of sight and out of mind.”

Of California’s roughly 130,000 homeless people, some 90,000 were unsheltered as of last year. Within the city of Los Angeles, the number jumped in 2019 to more than 36,000, a 16% increase. In the county, the number is just shy of 59,000 — a 12% bump over last year.

Trump has indicated in interviews that scenes of homeless people who appear to be mentally ill and walking around mounds of trash in cities are unacceptable. In fact, he said, they’re “inappropriate.”

During a speech at a Republican conference in Baltimore on Thursday, Trump said his administration has given “notice” to California, though it was unclear what that “notice” was.

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“Clean it up,” he said. “You’ve got to do something. You can’t have it. These are our great American cities and they’re an embarrassment.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani has spoken with President Trump about homelessness. L.A. is a good place to focus on the issue, he said: “If something works in Los Angeles, it will work anywhere else.”

Protesters mobilize in Bay Area

In preparation for Trump’s arrival, protesters across the state mobilized Tuesday.

In the Bay Area, about 200 protesters with the Backbone Campaign, Raging Grannies and Vigil for Democracy gathered at Rossotti Field in Portola Valley — a short distance from the Palo Alto mansion where the fundraising event was being held. The mansion, which belongs to Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is on the market for $96 million.

Police cars and motorcycles from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department and from cities throughout the county lined Alpine Drive from Interstate 280. Along the way, some protesters held signs calling for Trump’s impeachment as shuttle vans filled with donors rolled by.

Teslas, Mercedes and hybrid cars passed by, with drivers mostly beeping their horns in support. One cyclist yelled slurs at the protesters.

Curious neighbors also joined the raucous gathering. Among them, Dene Rowell, who lives near the mansion, stopped by to check out the hubbub. She said she had seen tents erected there since the end of last week. She assumed it was for a wedding — until she saw the Secret Service agents descend on the property.

“Then I put two and two together,” Rowell said.

Meghan Melaney, a “Raging Granny” from Menlo Park, said she was there to stand up for “ethical government.”

Her fellow Granny, Ruth Robertson of Palo Alto, brought a bag filled with extra granny hats.

“People show up and want to join,” she said. “I come prepared.”

A balloon resembling an infant-like Trump in diapers floated above the protesters. On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a VIP flight restriction notice, prohibiting planes, gliders, parachute operations, hang gliding, banner towing and “balloon operations” in a 32-mile radius around Palo Alto. The balloon was flown despite the notice.

William Johnson, of Backbone Campaign, which brought the balloon, said he didn’t see any safety concerns with the balloon. The group is from Vashon, Wash.

“We’re kind of wondering if they’re targeting us,” said Johnson of the FAA restriction.

Alan Marling, a San Francisco-based activist helped organize another event at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, said protesters would fly their balloons despite the restrictions. Indeed, a balloon of a chicken sporting Trump-like hair appeared there Tuesday afternoon.

“If Donald Trump spends taxpayer money” to stop activists from flying baby Trump balloons, then “that just proves he is one,” Marling said.

A copy of the invitation for the Palo Alto event, which was organized by the Republican National Committee, shows ticket prices ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. Big spenders will get a photo opportunity with the president, as well as “premiere seating” for the luncheon. A $35,500 donation provides only “preferred seating.” The local organizer was not named.

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Supporters and opponents of President Trump clash at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Benedict Canyon Road in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, while Trump attended a fundraiser.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

And in Los Angeles, where Trump is slated to spend the night, Trump attended a roundtable with supporters and a fundraising committee dinner at the home of real estate developer and Republican donor Geoff Palmer.

Veteran GOP activist Shawn Steel was among those who greeted him on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.

“He told us he’s coming back [to California]. We want him to come back, not only for raising money but for rallies,” said Steel, an RNC committee member whose wife, Michelle Steel, is on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and is running for Congress. GOP losses in Orange County were among the reasons the Republican party ceded control of the House of Representatives last year.

“He asked, ‘How are we doing in California? I understand it’s tough.’ I said it’s a lot better than three years ago, and secondly we have a whole new slate of candidates from the suburbs, a lot of women, a lot of minorities, a lot of immigrants,” Steel said. “He liked the sound of that.”

On Tuesday evening, about 30 protesters, including about a dozen from the Revolution Club, gathered near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, while Trump supporters stood nearby, all hoping to catch the president’s gaze.

A few Trump supporters followed the protesters, accosting them as they walked. When a group of protesters tried to burn an American flag, a few Trump supporters attempted to break into their circle.

Police officers detained some of the agitators once a few of the protesters and Trump supporters started shoving each other.

Trump took a different route through the area, missing the protesters’ 50-foot banner that read “Trump-Pence Must Go,” with smaller handwritten messages, including many that read, "[Expletive] Trump.”

Times staff writers Michael Finnegan, Cindy Chang, Dakota Smith and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.


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