Protestors Unsuccessful, Hahn’s Housing Motion Approved Unanimously

Hacienda Heights residents divided, united over controversial homeless project


Joshua Sanchez

Photo courtesy of Joshua Sanchez.

Some residents call the community protests “heartless,” while protestors use similar terms to define Supervisor Janice Hahn’s decision to turn a Motel 6 into a permanent housing structure for the homeless without engaging community stakeholders.

“This is what happens when politicians have free reign,” one 38 year resident said about the project at the Oct. 17 protest against making the Motel 6 a permanent option.

Others lamented what they saw as a “bait and switch” proposal when it was first proposed as a temporary shelter on May 9 before becoming a permanent option as of Oct. 27.

The project was first proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom back in April as a temporary solution to house homeless individuals to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Back then, the Motel 6 in Hacienda Heights was only considered to be one of Newsom’s new Project Roomkey sites.

An early protest ensued for a variety of reasons.

Some residents, cut and dried, did not want homeless individuals in their residential community. They spoke of being concerned about the location being a seven minute walk from Palm Elementary, a fifteen minute walk from Orange Grove Middle School and a half hour walk from Los Altos High School.

It also is a 15 minutes walk to the Hacienda Hills Trails, and another half hour walk to Puente Junction, the commercial area near the intersection between Gale Avenue and Hacienda Boulevard.

Utilizing Foothill Transit at the junction, or at any of the stops the two lines that follow Gale Avenue up to it, anyone can travel anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley. The Motel 6, with as much as a five minute walk to the first bus stop, was able to take anyone anywhere for free during the pandemic until Oct. 18 as long as they wore a mask and entered through the rear doors. The fees have since been reinstated.

Their other concerns – like property values and potential crime – were met with heavy criticism from people in favor of the development.

Debates were held online in the court of public opinion between the factions on NextDoor and Facebook.

The common arguments were against people’s locations in relation to the project (that’s easy for you to say, I live near it), religious affiliation (that’s not very Christian of you to deny housing), and calling the concerns against the project “fearmongering.” One resident quipped that it would be an “invasion” of elderly and high risk individuals to those saying it would bring in criminals.

Project Roomkey’s fact sheet led to that quip, but due to the private nature of the county’s handling of the issue and a lack of transparency barring residents from inspecting the facility, it is unknown how much of the original proposal is being honored.

Protestors have allegedly spoken to homeless individuals and asked them if they received services that the county touted and were told that they receive none of the services that were originally proposed. The protestors then allege that this is unfair treatment to the homeless who are dumped here with little more than a clinician or case worker and are left to fend for themselves.

The veracity of their claims cannot be assessed at this time.

Their frustrations, however, are well documented from the first protest against Motel 6 becoming a temporary housing solution for the homeless. In a stump speech made by the creator of a petition against the move that has now garnered over 2,800 signatures, Alvaro Banegas, residents are encouraged to support the local Denny’s, as the business will be impacted just as the residents of the area will.

“I want to make this clear, I am not against the homeless individuals,” Banegas said on May 9. “I am against the way they are being treated and the way our community is treated.”

He then went on to list out a summary of the initial concerns against the proposal, that there were no background checks, no drug testing, how Roomkey occupants are free to leave from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and how it is not limited to people over 65 and high risk.

One sole town hall meeting was held the day before the protest and was organized by request from the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association, an organization with minimal jurisdiction in the community. The town hall soured supporters and those against the proposal as representatives for the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and Phil Ansell, director of the county’s homeless initiative, provided answers that were seen by the community as “evasive” and “vague.”

HHIA serves as the only representation Hacienda Heights has because it is not an incorporated city, but as an entity it holds zero electoral power as its members pay membership dues and are separate from the election process. They facilitate the only communication community members have with the county as Hahn’s field representative(s) provide reports at their meetings alongside other reports.

Hahn’s representatives introduced the decision to house homeless individuals at Motel 6 as a temporary solution due to the coronavirus and HHIA members did what they could to get out the county’s message to the people.

Later, HHIA members found themselves in a predicament – the county issued nothing in writing. Anything HHIA members told the community was subject to change and the group was now in a position to take blame from residents for the county’s change of plans. When certain residents emailed Hahn and the field office representatives they were greeted with requests that conference calls be set up to discuss things. Nowhere does any entity have anything in writing about some of the assurances and guarantees that were verbally made to residents.

When Project Roomkey was beginning to be phased out, Newsom enacted Project Homekey as the next step. The money received for the second project was now contingent funds related to the coronavirus specifically and had to be used or it would be lost. This brought on the proposition to outright buy the properties.

Initially, within the temporary Project Roomkey, it was interim housing that was being “rented” by the county. In order to not lose one time funds, the county and the Board of Supervisors looked into the next steps and into implementing Project Homekey.

With no community outreach or feedback, the Board of Supervisors decided to purchase eight hotel sites to make them permanent housing solutions for the homeless. This was put on the Oct. 27 Board of Supervisor’s agenda as Item 15. The Hacienda Heights Motel 6 location is listed as the second most expensive property.

After finding out this was happening, one HHIA member founded a new group called “Safer HH” and organized three socially distant masked community protests outside the site on Oct. 10, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24 at 10 a.m.

At those protests, numerous issues were raised and some alternative solutions were suggested like moving the permanent location to the empty lot near the Hacienda Boulevard and Valley Boulevard intersection.

Numerous protestors also brought up the uptick in crime in the area for the two sheriffs patrols that service the community. Reportedly there were 29 incidents in July and neighbors have videos of vandalism.

That said, a small counter protest began on Oct. 24 by one resident who felt they had to show up because they had originally taken the dissent as one or two upset residents. The counter protestor commended the organizer’s ability to bring a larger turnout than was expected and was a reason why they went public.

They spoke of feeling safe in the area and their school aged son made arguments of his own as to why he does not feel concerned about homeless individuals near schools and does not feel comfortable with the bad association all homeless get as a result of bad actors.

Calling the solution one that made sense, the resident engaged online with those against the project and sent letters of support to the county, but did add they did not send any letters with questions to the county so they could not speak on a lack of answers or response.

The one thing both sides do agree on, however, is that a curfew “lock out,” as it is understood by residents, is a bad idea. Since homeless individuals are sometimes wandering at night, it is alleged by protestors that if they are not back in by 7 p.m. they will not be able to reenter the premises until the next day – leaving them on the street.

Similarly, those against the project have also united across party lines for a common goal. There is unity among the division regarding both perspectives on the project and both want to feel heard even though the decision can only go one way.

Depending on who one talks to on both sides, people want better for the homeless and their main disagreement is on how its being done and where its being done.

Public officials, however, call it a great idea.

Mainly because Hacienda Heights is a donor community with no representation. There are zero political repercussions for placing a project in a community that can be ignored when election time comes because the community is only a minor fraction of their constituency.

If it were a city, it could elect city council members that could fight for or against the project based upon the community’s opinions. Most communities that have cityhood have been able to fight or accept the proposal after the supervisors have worked with their local representatives. With Hacienda Heights, what the supervisor says goes.

Since there is no way for Hacienda Heights residents to be represented locally and their main representatives cover wider areas, the community is disenfranchised with little local control.

Sen. Bob Archuleta, who represents Senate District 32 – and by extension Hacienda Heights – in the state legislature, wrongfully called the community a city when speaking in favor of the contested proposal becoming a permanent fixture of the area on Oct. 27.

He also implied the property from the unincorporated area of Whittier is a part of the city of Whittier itself. Norwalk is the only city in his speech that has a homeless structure being built in the city limits. Nonetheless, he represents the areas for where three of the eight properties were acquired from.

“As a senator representing the 32nd senate district, the cities of Hacienda Heights, Norwalk, and Whittier are in my district and I am calling in support of the Homekey funding to purchase the properties and offer services in the cities in my district,” Archuleta said. “My cities are willing to step up and do their part when it comes to homelessness, but it is so important that we realize that the situation is just not in my city, it is across the state of California and it affects so many.”

Supervisor Hahn and the rest of the board agreed with Archuleta.

The vote to pass the purchase agreement was 5-0, solidifying it as a permanent decision to make the Motel 6 in Hacienda Heights a Project Homekey site.

Protestors and organizers may continue to fight to be heard about how the final decisions are made with the site, but as it stands the county has made its decision for Hacienda Heights.