LA City Council Ordinance Limiting Homeless Encampments Delayed

The new ordinance banning homeless encampments from blocking sidewalks and doorways, and within 500 feet of schools, parks, shelters and libraries, required a unanimous vote to pass Thursday.

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The LA City Council on Thursday voted 13-2 in favor of adopting a new city ordinance banning homeless encampments from public sidewalks and parks in the city of Los Angeles.

The draft ordinance required a unanimous vote to be adopted on its first consideration. Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman voted no in the 13-2 vote.

The ordinance will be tabled until July 28, when another vote will take place.

Bonin and Raman expressed concern about the number of beds available for homeless individuals, stating that the ordinance might not solve the problem but would instead move encampments other places.

Homeless encampments have taken over many Los Angeles sidewalks and parks. City officials have a new plan to stop it, after some debate over whether or not to resume enforcement of previous "anti-camping" laws suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tents housing the homeless line a street in downtown Los Angeles.
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Tents housing the homeless line a street in downtown Los Angeles, California on April 22, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the LA City Attorney drafted a new ordinance that would ban homeless encampments from blocking the public right of way on sidewalks and doorways, and within 500 feet of sensitive locations like schools, parks, shelters and libraries.

The previous anti-camping laws prohibited tents during daytime hours, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

"We should be leading with services and housing for people experiencing homelessness," said Mike Feurer, "but by the same token our public spaces need to be safe and accommodating for everyone and there need to be clear rules."

Residents in some locations are eager to see new rules enforced.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Rick Swinger, a Venice Beach resident who has been documenting the homeless problem in the area for several years. He's posted cell phone video of encampments and fights on the streets online.

Swinger said he's tired of cleaning up human feces outside his door, and supports the city's proposed ban on sidewalk camping.

"This is worse than third world country conditions - because no other country allows unlimited sidewalk camping," Swinger said.

Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, on the other hand, says the ordinance doesn't fix the problem — it just criminalizes homelessness. People living on the street who don't comply with the rule voluntarily are subject to misdemeanor fines, or even arrest.

"$229 a night to put somebody in jail — you could get them a motel for the week!" Sobel said. "What are we thinking?"

City attorney Feurer said law enforcement would be a last resort, with street teams first doing outreach to homeless individuals. Under the new ordinance, the city would have to offer services first, and give 14 days notice to give people time to move their belongings.

"We have models for how this can work in a way that is both clear and effective on one hand and humane on the other," Feurer said. "That’s the balance we need in Los Angeles."

With a 13-2 vote Thursday, the next reading will take place after the City Council's summer break, on July 28. After that, the ordinance requires only eight votes to pass.

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