Miller Barondess Wins Two TRO’s to Help LA County Implement Gov. Newsom’s “Project Roomkey”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom created “Project Roomkey,” an innovative program designed to protect the State’s most vulnerable residents, prevent the spread of the deadly virus, and protect the capacity of our hospitals and healthcare systems.

Project Roomkey uses $200 million in federal and state emergency relief funds to book homeless individuals—those 65 or older or with underlying medical conditions—into hotel and motel rooms around the State. It also provides for on-site management, wrap-around social services, medical services, medical screening for COVID-19 symptoms, and 24-hour on-site security.

As directed by Gov. Newsom, the County of Los Angeles is implementing the program. It has established temporary housing at hotels and motels in local communities and has sheltered more than 3,500 people since Project Roomkey started in April 2020.

While many cities have cooperated with Project Roomkey, the cities of Norwalk and Bell Gardens refused and enacted moratoriums on housing the homeless. But, because of the Miller Barondess team’s advocacy on behalf of the County, both Cities were enjoined from enforcing their moratoriums.

On April 28, 2020, Miller Barondess secured a Temporary Restraining Order requiring Norwalk’s compliance with the Emergency Services Act and the Governor’s Executive Orders, and preventing Norwalk from interfering with placing homeless seniors and others susceptible to COVID-19 in one of the City’s hotels. The TRO issued by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner prevented Norwalk from revoking the hotel’s conditional use permit and prevented Norwalk from enforcing the City moratorium.

On May 5, 2020, Miller Barondess secured another Temporary Restraining Order requiring Bell Gardens to comply with the Emergency Services Act and the Governor’s Executive Orders. The TRO prevented Bell Gardens from terminating the hotel’s ground lease and prevented Bell Gardens from enforcing a new City moratorium barring hotel and motel participation in emergency temporary shelter programs. The transcript of the court’s proceedings on May 5, 2020 is available here.

The victories in these cases are precedents that will be used all over the State. The bottom line is that the Governor’s program worked—the County is saving lives while reducing the burden on the healthcare system, and participating hotels and motels are making money during a pandemic that they would not have otherwise made.

The Miller Barondess team included partners Skip Miller and Mira Hashmall.

Per Skip Miller, lead counsel, “The County is bound and determined to carry out Governor Newsom’s emergency orders. The whole idea is to move the most likely victims out of homeless encampments and into safety as quickly as possible. These temporary programs exist to save lives and stop the spread of the deadly virus.”