The Los Angeles City Council rejected a proposal Friday morning that would force hotels to report vacant rooms, by 2 p.m. daily, so homeless people can use government vouchers to stay in them.
The ordinance was proposed by UNITE HERE Local 11, a union representing over 32,000 workers in California’s hospitality industry—perhaps most famously at Chateau Marmont and Dodger Stadium—which secured enough signatures for the council to vote on the measure.
According to a document released by the Office of the City Clerk last February, “The ordinance would create a program, subject to funding availability, to place unhoused individuals in vacant hotel rooms. A hotel would be prohibited from refusing lodging to program participants.”
The City Council was tasked today with voting either to adopt the proposed initiative ordinance, without alteration or to adopt the ballot resolution to submit the proposed initiative ordinance, without alteration, for a public vote in the March 5, 2024 election.
The City Council voted 11-1 in favor of the latter.
Councilman Joe Buscaino told KTLA in a report that aired Thursday night ahead of the vote that he thought the plan was “the dumbest measure” he’s seen in his decade on the City Council. He described the idea as “the worst of all options” in L.A.’s struggle to solve the homeless crisis, only exacerbated by the pandemic.
“What the measure does is hurts our tourism industry, which we heavily rely on, in a time when we are getting ready for the Olympics,” Buscaino said. “It puts hotel workers in a position where they will become social workers.”
Leaders from the hotel industry also stood in opposition.
“It baffles me that Unite Here, which claims to protect its members, is leading this measure that would very likely jeopardize worker safety,” Heather Rozman, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, in a statement Friday morning. “We’re relieved that the council saw this for the political stunt that it is and call on them to instead pursue long-term solutions to homelessness that actually work.”
Ray Patel, president of the Northeast Los Angeles Hotel Owners Association, told Fox LA earlier this week he thinks the proposal is “crazy,” and that members of the association are concerned.
“I can’t screen who ends up in my hotel rooms?” he said. “How do I protect my other customers and my staff?”
KTLA also spoke to Hollywood hotel owner Mina Dahya, who is also firmly against the initiative.
“I am compassionate of the homeless people. I want to take care of them,” Dahya said. “But I don’t think my staff and I are ready to do the combination where I have a paid guest staying with a homeless voucher guest next door.”
Hotel manager Juan Martinez told KTLA, “This is a bad idea. People are not going to feel safe. My staff is not going to feel safe, so I think this is wrong.”
Advocates believe the ordinance serves as a longer-term part of the solution for the housing crisis as Project Roomkey—a federally-funded program launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to house unsheltered individuals in hotels—is ending.
The proposed ordinance would also require a hotel development project of 100 or more rooms to obtain a land use permit based on factors including the market demand for the project, and the project’s impact on affordable housing, transit, social services, employees, and local businesses.
A hotel development project of 15 or more rooms would be required to replace demolished or converted housing with an equivalent amount of affordable housing at or near the project site.
Additionally, the ordinance would establish special police permit requirements for hotels, and a hotel would need to meet specified standards, including compliance with wage theft and employment laws, to obtain a permit and avoid disciplinary action.
“LA needs more affordable homes, not more luxury hotels,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11, after Friday’s vote.
“Like all Angelenos, the number one concern of professional hospitality workers is the cost of housing,” he continued. “Every day room attendants at DTLA hotels have no choice but to move out of L.A. because luxury developers are demolishing the affordable housing stock. Our ordinance would force decision-makers to prioritize housing over luxury developments. The Responsible Hotel Ordinance provides a common-sense solution.”