WASHINGTON — After spending over a decade on Capitol Hill, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass knows her way around the beltway.

When she left Washington behind late last year, she promised she would be calling on her colleagues in her new role leading the second largest city in the world.

What You Need To Know

  • LA Mayor Bass brought a delegation of City Council members to Washington this week to meet with legislators, Biden administration officials and cabinet secrtaries

  • The meetings included visits with Secretaries Pete Buttigieg, Alejandro Mayorkas and Denis McDonough

  • During the trip, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power received notice of a $48 million federal grant

“Members of Congress please stand up so we can acknowledge you,” Bass said during her inaugural address. “I will miss you, but I know our friendships will go on for many, many years and I’ll be back to visit because I have to call on you.”

Bass kept that promise this week, bringing a delegation of LA City Council members with her to meet with Biden administration officials, cabinet secretaries and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The delegation including Council President Paul Krekorian, Assistant President Pro Tem Bob Blumenfield and Council members Hugo Soto-Martinez, Traci Park, Eunisses Hernandez and Heather Hutt.

“I think it's most important that we do everything we can to maximize our resources. And the best way to do that is to work across every level of government, federal, state, county and city all coming together,” said Bass in an interview with Spectrum News during her visit, in which she touted the success of the trip. “We were fortunate while we were here, we were notified of a grant that Los Angeles is going to receive over $40 million that will help us continue to move forward to clean air in LA.”

That grant Bass referred to in our interview is coming to the city via the U.S. Department of Energy for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The $48 million federal grant will go towards enhancing “LADWP’s grid flexibility, improve the resilience of the power system against growing threats of extreme weather and climate change, and ensure Los Angeles has access to affordable, reliable, clean electricity throughout all areas of the city,” per the mayor’s office.

“We're working on a package of $318 million in transportation improvements. That [grant] will be very important over the next few years as we prepare for the Olympics,” said Krekorian.

“Although we are the second largest city in America, too often we’re overlooked by our partners in other branches of government. But thanks to our mayor's relationships and the deep associations she has here and her reputation here, both within the Biden-Harris administration and within the Congress, this is a great opportunity for us to be seen, to be heard, to let the decision makers here understand what we're facing in Los Angeles,” he added.

One key issue where LA needs more federal support is when it comes to aiding those facing homelessness. During their visit, the delegation met with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge to ask for the easing of certification requirements for rental assistance, sought increased funding for housing vouchers and requested the reallocation of unused emergency housing vouchers across the country to Los Angeles to house more Angelenos.  

The mayor’s program “Inside Safe,” which she launched through executive order shortly after she took office, is approaching its one-year anniversary. As of Aug. 18, just 148 out of 1,531 Inside Safe participants have found permanent housing, according to the most recent data from the city administrative officer. Bass admitted the numbers surprise her. 

“I would have thought it would have been far more than that, but that's where we found barriers,” said Bass. “Prior to the waiver that [HUD] granted Los Angeles, a person who was unhoused living on the street had to prove that they did not have income. How do you prove you have nothing if you have been in a tent for years?” 

“We were able to get them to waive that. There's several other barriers like that that will allow us to move people into housing much quicker,” Bass continued. “The other thing is, in terms of people that have moved back on the streets, we need a much stronger social safety net. So we were here talking about that as well. There is a lack of services for people who are unhoused. The problem that we face is that the numbers are so massive, it is difficult in our current system to address the problem. So it was important for us to come here and for Washington to understand. It's not like there's several 100 homeless people, it's 46,000 in the city. So it was important for them to understand the magnitude of the problem that we're dealing with.”

Krekorian told us that he thinks having these conversations face to face with policymakers could really make a difference down the line.

“When you're making policy for an entire country, it's understandable that you take into account the various different challenges that are being faced across the country. But I don't think most people in Washington fully understand what we face in Los Angeles and the unique aspects of it,” he told Spectrum News. “The magnitude of the homelessness challenge, but also the unaffordability of our housing market, our inability to really quickly develop enough new housing and enough affordable housing, the impacts that we suffer as a result of the nationwide opioid epidemic and a nationwide failure to provide care for people with mental illness. Those are national issues, which affect us disproportionately in Los Angeles. And I think it's important that people here understand what we're facing at the local level, as a result, often of federal policy that doesn't adequately meet the needs of the people of Los Angeles.” 

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., one of the officials that the delegation met with this week, expressed mental health as an important policy priority for him as well. On Tuesday, Padilla led a bipartisan group of senators launching the Senate Mental Health Caucus.

“I know that both mental health and the homelessness challenge are top of mind for her, they certainly go hand in hand, and we want to make sure we're coordinating, [and] collaborating as best we can and really finding those solutions that are proven to work and expanding on them,” said Padilla.

The backdrop of Bass’ trip was hard to ignore. The House of Representatives is well into its second week without a House speaker, legislation is effectively stalled and a potential government shutdown is a month away. Bass is crossing her fingers things get moving quickly within the deadlocked Congress that she was once a part of.

“Within that budget that they pass, there's programs specifically for Los Angeles that have been requested by individual members of Congress, and that we have made requests for we were able to fund a number of housing projects in LA because of targeted resources that individual members can do, which is called earmarks. So when the budget passes, we get our earmarks,” reminded Bass.

“Housing and infrastructure should be bipartisan priorities. Everybody needs a place to live, and we all need infrastructure to have a functioning society,” Krekorian jumped in. “These are the two biggest drivers of job creation and economic opportunity that lifts up the middle class in this country.”

While the challenges the city is facing won’t be resolved overnight, Bass and Krekorian said they feel this trip and their meetings with administration officials are helping them to deliver now and in the future for Angelenos.

“Sometimes it's regulatory relief, sometimes it's advice about money that they have issued to Los Angeles, and them advising us about how we can maximize the dollars,” said Bass of the help they receive from the administration. “There's lots of examples of ways we can bring resources back to Los Angeles that don't involve the legislative process at all.”