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Coronavirus: LA County Requests Emergency Hearing Over Project Roomkey After Bell Gardens, Lawndale Tell Hotels To Stop Housing Homeless

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Attorneys for Los Angeles County Friday filed a request for an emergency hearing with a federal judge, alleging that court-ordered efforts to help house homeless people at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus were being hindered by objections from Lawndale and Bell Gardens.

According to the filing in Los Angeles federal court, the county received correspondence from the two cities threatening to interfere with Project Roomkey, an initiative to secure housing at participating hotels and motels for vulnerable populations experiencing homelessness.

Included in the filing was a letter to a hotel operator from Bell Gardens' city attorney in connection with the "unauthorized decision to sublease the hotel ... to be utilized as a medical shelter and quarantine housing for contagious and high-risk patients potentially infected with COVID-19."

The letter demanded that the hotel stop bringing in new homeless tenants and transfer its existing tenants to other facilities.

"The unauthorized operation of a medical facility" constituted a breach of the hotel's lease with the city, according to the letter, and the letter said that if immediate steps were not taken, the city would be "forced to seek remedies," including terminating the lease and essentially closing the hotel.

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The letter dated Wednesday further warned that Bell Gardens planned to file a motion for a temporary restraining order in Superior Court by Tuesday, unless an agreement was reached.

A statement from the city of Bell Gardens reiterated the point made in the letter:

"The operations of the medical sheltering facility are outside of the allowable uses of the hotel. The city expects to work with the hotel business owner to ensure the hotel is operated in accordance with allowable uses."

A second letter included in the county's filing from Lawndale's city attorney to the operator of a hotel in that city stated that the agreement with the county "to become a temporary homeless shelter" was "negotiated and executed in complete secrecy" without any input from the city, and if the agreement was not terminated, the city would schedule a public Planning Commission hearing to consider revoking the hotel's special use permit.

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The Lawndale attorney wrote that "while Project Roomkey is a well-intended program to help the most vulnerable homeless in Los Angeles County during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the city believes that allowing the (hotel) to operate as a shelter could cause irreparable harm to the Lawndale community."

The county's filing asks U.S. District Judge David Carter to schedule an "immediate intervention."

The judge "can play a valuable role in the county's efforts to successfully implement" Project Roomkey in the two cities, the county wrote, asking that Bell Gardens and Lawndale city officials be ordered to appear.

Project Roomkey is a state-supported and FEMA-approved program to secure hotel and motel rooms in local communities to provide safe isolation capacity for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in order to protect them and their neighbors from COVID-19 during the ongoing public health emergency.

The county has contracts for beds with more 25 hotels for a combined total of 2,500 beds in cities in the Antelope Valley, the South Bay, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, and metropolitan Los Angeles.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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