Residents oppose L.A. County’s plan to convert a Motel 6 into permanent housing for homeless people in Hacienda Heights.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Wilma Wu walked into the Hacienda Heights Community Center feeling upset that the powers that be were again trying to force her tranquil town to bear the burden of the county’s homelessness crisis.
Los Angeles County had converted a Motel 6 into a temporary shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now officials wanted to turn it into long-term homeless housing.
“I had been hearing that they were going to bus people from other cities here,” Wu said. “People with drug and alcohol problems and mentally ill. This is what’s been circulating in the neighborhood.”
Wu, 51, had hopes she would learn more about the plan at a town hall meeting last week. Instead, she watched as hundreds of residents, mostly Chinese Americans, screamed and jeered at officials, including a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who spoke about helping homeless veterans.
In terms of where to house homeless people, NIMBYism spans race and politics. Five years ago, the Orange County Board of Supervisors had plans to build temporary homeless shelters in Laguna Niguel, Irvine and Huntington Beach. All three cities fought the plan, but the opposition was fiercest in Irvine — where hundreds of Chinese Americans and immigrants mobilized. Similar efforts happened in Arcadia, where Chinese residents opposed the construction of tiny homes. “This is part of becoming a suburban American; sadly, this is what you assimilate into,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science and public policy at UC Riverside. “You see other versions of this in other parts of L.A. and Southern California, where higher-income communities are able to deploy various tactics to prevent new developments that would change the character of the area or enable low-income residents to come in.” It’s not just in Asian American neighborhoods; it’s happening in other diverse communities such as Lancaster and the eastern San Diego suburb of El Centro. Residents in urban areas such as Koreatown and Boyle Heights have followed suit, with opposition to proposed homeless housing in their neighborhoods, citing the unfairness of wealthier towns’ ability to keep such projects at bay. Of course, none of these neighborhoods is monolithic. And younger people tend to be more supportive of creating housing for people experiencing homelessness. At the town hall in Hacienda Heights — an unincorporated bedroom community 16 miles east of downtown Los Angeles — shouting matches broke out between warring sides. Water bottles were thrown. “I saw an elderly couple throwing scrunched-up paper,” Wu said. The Hacienda Heights Chinese American Assn. led the protest, with county officials barely able to get a word in to address concerns about public safety or debunk common myths surrounding people experiencing homelessness. David Fang, president of the association, did not respond to requests for comment.