LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (Sept 18) he had given the US Environmental Protection Agency less than a week to issue a notice to the city of San Francisco over its homelessness problem and attendant pollution.
The move was the latest salvo in a political war between Trump and officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles over what the president believes is their failure to tackle the growing number of people living on the streets.
"They have to clean it up," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. "We can't have our cities going to hell. They are in serious violation."
Trump said the issue was an environmental one because "tremendous pollution", including syringes used by homeless addicts to inject drugs, was flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Bay Area cities.
Earlier in the day, US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson rejected requests from California for more money to fight homelessness, saying the Trump administration was already doing its part.
Governor Gavin Newsom and other Democratic elected officials, including the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco, asked Trump this week for federal funds to expand programs to provide stable living environments for the homeless.
"Your letter seeks federal dollars for California from hardworking American taxpayers but fails to admit that your state and local policies have played a major role in the current crisis," Carson said in response.
Since Trump's 2016 election, California state officials have filed dozens of lawsuits over the administration's actions on a host of issues from immigration and healthcare to the environment.
On Wednesday, the two sides went to war over who should set US standards for vehicle emissions and electric cars, the first feint in what could be a long legal battle.
Trump, who was in California this week for a series of fundraisers for his 2020 re-election campaign, has criticised the homelessness problem in the Democratic strongholds of California's biggest cities.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday from a newly created refuge for homeless people that the facility showed the kind of work underway in the city to help the unsheltered.
"It's no secret that I have disagreed with you on almost everything Mr President, but if you are in your heart willing to save lives alongside us, we know what works here," Garcetti said in the video.
This week, Newsom said he had made housing affordability a priority, committing US$1.75 billion (S$2.4 billion) to the creation of new housing and encouraging or forcing cities to approve new home construction.
The population of homeless in the nation's second-largest city has increased 16 per cent in the past year, an annual census released in June by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) showed.
An estimated 130,000 people are homeless in California on any given day, more than any other state, the Department of Housing and Urban Development says.
Homeless advocates have cited low housing vacancy as a main contributor to homelessness. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a roughly 4 per cent vacancy rate, one of the nation's lowest, according to the US Census Bureau.
Los Angeles County officials on Tuesday took action in line with one of Carson's recommendations, which was to give police more power to clear homeless encampments.
The board of supervisors voted to join a legal challenge to a federal appeals court ruling that bars cities from arresting or citing homeless people for camping on sidewalks unless they can all be offered shelter.