Number one priority is the safety of our community…always has been and always will be. With property crimes in California and Whittier increasing, many people in Whittier have personally experienced the increase in crime… thefts of packages on the front porch, car break-ins, home break-ins, etc. And all of us went through the horrendous impact of the death of Officer Keith Boyer and the wounding of Officer Patrick Hazell; crimes that should have never occurred because the perpetrator should have been behind bars. As a city, we have been extremely active in working on the crime problem in three ways. First, last year the city council invested $2.5M in the Whittier Police Department for a new problem-oriented policing team (POP), new radio system, canines, and GPS theft tracking devices. Second, the police need more eyes and ears on the street and that’s us, the residents. We have emphasized residents getting involved in Neighborhood Watch (in 2016, 73 groups, in 2017, 94 groups) and we are in the process of beefing up this effective program. Third, on the Sacramento legislative front, we are doing something that other cities are joining with us… pushing for reforms/changes of the criminal “reform laws” (AB 109, Prop 47, Prop 57). In fact, the statewide League of California Cities adopted Whittier’s multipronged effort which is in the form of legislation last year and this year. I am helping to push forward these reforms and testified before the Legislature. Importantly our ballot proposition, KeepCalsafe.org, will be on the November 2020 ballot to restore some sanity to our criminal justice system and provide us some protection. If this proposition had been the law, Officer Boyer would not have been taken from us.
We all have felt it…it seems like traffic in Southern California is up and more congested than ever and Whittier is no exception. It is a major concern of the Mayor and we have found that much of the traffic on Whittier Blvd. (east-west), Colima Road and Norwalk Blvd (north-south) is “cut through” traffic where people are avoiding the 60 freeway or the 605 freeway. It seems that technology is causing this to happen as Waze gives alternate routes for commuters through Whittier. And this is especially true during the morning and afternoon rush hours. In addition to Waze, Hacienda Road in La Habra collapsed in 2019, forcing all the east side traffic over Colima. So, what are we doing to try to mitigate the traffic? Several things… We are in the process of designing synchronization of traffic signals along Lambert Road (a great alternate to Whittier Blvd.). We are working on “hot spot” projects that take the major intersections on Whittier Blvd (Norwalk, Painter, Colima and Five Points) to redesign and widen for better traffic flow. Hacienda Road is also scheduled to be reopened by the end of summer 2020. Recently the Council directed staff to look into taking over Whittier Blvd from CalTrans which would allow us to control traffic flow through our city (with Whittier Blvd. under CalTrans control our ability to manage traffic is minimal at best). As we review potential new development, we balance the number of units to be built and the resulting traffic impacts (in addition to fire/police and other service needs).
Whittier Homelessness: When it comes to homelessness in California, cities and counties throughout the state are busy mopping up the deluge. And as we have seen in our town, Whittier is not immune. We need help from Sacramento to address the source of the leak.
California has the highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the nation. Communities, cities, and counties are working hard to address the issue, but at the local level, we desperately need collaborative leadership at the state level to address the main issues that speak directly to the source of our homelessness crisis. Mental health, drug and substance abuse, housing costs and recent criminal “reforms” have all converged like a perfect storm to create the explosion of homelessness we are facing. These are state-level issues that cry out for state-level resolutions in a coordinated manner. If not, the only sad option is to continue mopping up water without fixing the leak.
Before this year, Whittier had seen a 44% reduction in our homeless population by headcount since 2015. But in 2019, we saw our first uptick, along with the rest of Los Angeles County. The percentage of our neighbors experiencing homelessness per population is fewer than half the Los Angeles County average. This is not by accident. Residents here formed the Whittier Consortium on Homelessness designed to bring various sectors of our community together to discuss collaborative and mutually beneficial solutions to homelessness. The Consortium launched “Imagine Whittier,” a mentorship program that in its first year has seen 100 percent of families recovering from homelessness maintain their housing. Last year our local nonprofit, The Whole Child, housed 244 families in the region. We opened a new shelter at the Salvation Army for women and children, established a MHET team (Mental Health Evaluation Team) through the Whittier Police Department and L.A. County Department of Mental Health, initiated a veteran’s resource center at our Whittier Public Library, created a comprehensive City of Whittier Homelessness Plan. And we are looking to establish a mobile shower program and a Jobs Readiness program in Whittier. Our city staff, county partners, non-profits, service providers, faith community, business, health, and education sectors have all come together to address our homeless challenges head-on through collaboration, and we are seeing promising results. Yet even with all the success, we have seen in Whittier, the problem of homelessness still looms large…
We are doing nearly everything we can do locally, but are not able to address the source of the leak, the root cause. Many people are not in the capacity, nor have the ability, to receive help due to severe mental health illness and/or addiction issues. Instead, they are being left on our streets to suffer. This status quo is the opposite of a compassionate response. People desperately need access to treatment. Service-resistant individuals have been fueled by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Martin v. City of Boise that has tied our hands and has contributed to an increase in tent cities throughout California (Recently the US Supreme Court decided to not take the Boise appeal, thus, for now, the 9th Circuit decision stands). To provide a bed for each homeless person located in Whittier (whether from Whittier or not) is cost-prohibitive and just not feasible. This is a federal mandate without any reimbursement for that mandate.
In Whittier, we were fortunate that a collaborative effort between state and local government resulted in the clearing of Parnell Park and the Whittier Boulevard greenbelt and moved many of the homeless into temporary shelters where service organizations can better tend to their individual needs. But the Parnell Park encampment is back. Through local, voter-approved Measure H, the county has committed $3.5 billion over 10 years to address the homeless crisis. And Whittier is working closely with Supervisor Janice Hahn, who is helping to provide regional support on the issue. But even Measure H and the County’s Homeless Initiative is not able to truly address the root causes of homelessness in California. And recently California received the announcement from the Governor that he has convened a special task force on homelessness and is prepared to pour $1 billion into the task. It is really good news that the State is finally focusing attention on the problem. But it is not enough to just spend money. We need to get to these root causes of homelessness.
On behalf of those working to find solutions to homelessness at the local level, the Whittier community, City of Whittier, and Los Angeles County, we need a productive conversation and agreement with state leaders to address the sources of the leak. Until the root causes of homelessness in California - mental health, drug and substance abuse, housing costs and recent criminal “reforms” - are addressed at the state level, local cities will continually be forced to mop up the leak. We need to work together to fix the leak for all Californians ... at the root level. Be assured that until we have State help, we will continue to work on finding housing for our homeless who desire a bed but we cannot, and will not, allow our parks to be overrun in such a way that our taxpaying residents and their children are unable to use those parks.
Uptown continues to grow and prosper with new restaurants and shopping opportunities coming our way. This new year has already ushered in the openings of Poet Gardens and Whittier Brewing Company located in the historic Nixon Plaza. Costa restaurant brings a vision of seafood with a flare for our modern times. Super Mex is soon to open its unique take on Mexican food and offering an event space. Several other restaurants and another brewery will open later this year.
The Uptown Whittier Improvement Association is working hard to keep our Uptown streets cleaner and graffiti-free. In 2018 the Uptown property owners banded together with a promise for continued revitalization. Breaking ground in 2020, the city is heavily involved with the development of a much-needed new Uptown parking structure (parking gets more challenging every day). With the adoption of a streetscape infrastructure and beautification plan for Uptown, with improvements in security, streets, and sidewalks, this “foodie” destination will continue to be more vibrant every day and offer more to our residents.
Shuttered Nelles Youth Facility will soon be The Groves of Whittier
The Groves of Whittier (formally Nelles) construction is well underway. I am pleased to report that substantial progress has been and is being made. Construction permits were taken out and the initial model homes are now under construction. Those of you who have driven by will note that much of the earth moving has been completed and the streets have been paved. Importantly, portions of the property were sold to the apartment builder and to the developer of the commercial/retail. I am excited that they are now in the lease-up phase and In-N-Out, Raising Cane's, a state-of-the-art Stater Bros. and LA Fitness and others, have already joined up. And I am pleased to report that we have had discussions with Optimus, an autonomous vehicle company looking at ways to use AV vehicles at the Groves and PIH. We are also working with a consultant on doing a master people mover plan for Whittier. As I indicated, lots of progress!
As a kid, I remember giving my book reports at the Whittier Central Library to volunteers as part of the Summer Reading Club which still exists for this current generation of children. But the Central Library, a circa 1959 community treasure, was in need of work. In August we ceremoniously accepted $4.4 Million of our tax dollars back from the state thanks to the work of our Senator Bob Archuleta. Combining that with an additional $2 Million from Janice Hahn, we are well on our way to repairing and enhancing this Whittier treasure. Whittier will have a renewed Central Library very soon.