Bass removes commission president after panel delays vote on Westside homeless shelter

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass on Monday abruptly removed a veteran city commissioner days after he led his colleagues in delaying a vote on a new Westside homeless shelter backed by the mayor.

Eric Eisenberg confirmed Monday that he received a letter from Bass telling him that he had been removed from the city’s Transportation Commission, where he served as president. Eisenberg had been reappointed by Bass in August to serve a third term on the commission.

Bass’ office didn’t immediately provide comment on Eisenberg’s removal.

His ouster followed a unanimous decision by the commission last week to delay a vote on a proposed homeless shelter at Pico Boulevard and Midvale Avenue in Rancho Park. Several opponents of the shelter spoke at the meeting, saying they were concerned that it would rise next to residential homes.

Eisenberg and his colleagues questioned why a panel focused on transportation was being asked to approve an environmental review exception for the shelter. The commissioners asked for a representative of the city’s Bureau of Engineering to appear at their next meeting so they could better understand their role in the development.

Eisenberg, who previously served on the Harbor Area planning commission and works as a developer, told The Times that no one from the mayor’s office reached out to him following the vote. But he said he believes he was removed because of his role in delaying the vote.

The Transportation Commission, like most city commissions, consists of unpaid volunteers.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Eisenberg said. “It’s sending a message of ‘You do what we tell you or we’re going to cut you.’ That’s the wrong message. That’s not the message you want to send when you’re in a democracy.”

Eisenberg’s removal is likely to fuel controversy over the proposed 33-bed interim homeless shelter at 2377 Midvale Avenue. Opponents on Monday released a statement blasting Eisenberg’s ouster and calling the shelter “ill conceived.”

“This is very troubling,” said Barbara Broide, a local resident who wants the city to consider other locations for the shelter. “It demonstrates that citizen commissions under this administration are designed to be nothing more than rubber stamps.”

Bass has made reducing homelessness her top issue. Her Inside Safe initiative seeks to quickly move unhoused Angelenos into motels and hotels, and she has ordered city departments to hasten the construction of affordable housing and shelters.

The plan for the shelter, which would be built on city-owned parking lot, is scheduled to return to the Transportation Commission for another vote at a special meeting on Thursday and could be heard by the City Council as soon as Friday.

Backers, who include Bass and City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky, point to the critical need for shelter in Council District 5. The shelter would serve homeless people in the area. People could live with partners and pets at the facility, which would operate for up to 10 years, according to a city report.

Mental health and substance use disorder specialists, permanent housing navigation support, employment assistance and 24-hour security would be available.

The Westside Neighborhood Council voted last week to oppose the project because of its proximity to homes and “struggling businesses recovering from the pandemic,” according to a statement. The group also expressed “dismay that other sites were not being evaluated as alternatives.”

The Century Glen Homeowners Assn. has also asked the city to consider alternative locations, including a site on Cotner Avenue.

In August, Yaroslavsky and Bass held a community meeting on the project that turned chaotic. Opponents jeered the two politicians, and Yaroslavsky struggled to speak at points, with some attendees chanting, “Recall.”

“I know that people are upset. I understand that,” Bass told the crowd. The mayor also praised Yaroslavsky’s “brave” stance on the development and threatened to shut down the meeting entirely if people weren’t willing to listen.

Some locals support the project. Resident Toby Muresianu told council members at a recent committee meeting on the shelter that he had met a person experiencing homelessness on Pico Boulevard.

“He was just a regular guy from L.A. who wanted housing,” said Muresianu. “And then about a month later, it rained for three days and he died of pneumonia. This would have saved his life. I think that should trump other concerns.”

Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.

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