LA City Council Approves Sweeping Ordinance to Restrict Homeless Encampments

The controversial ordinance would restrict sleeping and homeless encampments in certain areas of the city, including within 500 feet of schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries.

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The Los Angeles City Council finalized a sweeping ordinance Wednesday to restrict sleeping and homeless encampments in certain areas of the city, including within 500 feet of schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries.

It now goes to Mayor Eric Garcetti for final approval, and if signed, will go into effect 30 days later.

Thirteen council members voted to approve the ordinance on July 1, but with Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilwoman Nithya Raman dissenting, the ordinance fell short of the unanimous approval needed on its first consideration. On Wednesday, it will only need eight votes to pass.

The ordinance would prohibit sitting, sleeping, lying, storing personal property or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the city, including within two feet of any fire hydrant or fire plug; within five feet of any operational or utilizable entrance or exit; within 10 feet of a loading dock or driveway; in a manner that interferes with any activity for which the city has issued a permit; in a manner that restricts accessible passage as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act; or anywhere within a street, including bike paths.

It would also protect the public right of way within 500 feet of a "sensitive" facility, including schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries.

In explaining his decision to vote against the ordinance on July 1, Bonin shared with council members his own experience being unhoused, saying, "Some of those nights I slept in the car, some of those nights, when my car was in the shop, I slept on the beach. I cannot tell you how much turmoil is in your heart when the sun is setting and you don't know where to sleep. I cannot tell you how demoralizing and dehumanizing and defeating that experience is when you don't know where you're going to sleep.''

He said the ordinance tells people where they cannot sleep, but it doesn't tell them where they can sleep.

"That's what it comes down to for me... where can people go, where can people sleep when they do not have an alternative," Bonin said.

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He added that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said Thursday that the city has only enough beds to shelter 39% of the city's homeless population.

The ordinance would also restrict blocking the public right of way once the Los Angeles City Council passes a resolution to do so, posts signage and gives notice in the following areas:

  • up to 500 feet of a designated overpass, underpass, freeway ramp, tunnel, bridge, pedestrian bridge, subway, wash or spreading ground, railroad track or where lodging unsheltered or in tents is unhealthy, unsafe and incompatible with safe passage; and
  • up to 1,000 feet of a facility opened after Jan. 1, 2018 that provides shelter, safe sleeping, safe parking or navigation centers for persons experiencing homelessness.

The ordinance would also allow the city to prevent encampments for a period of no longer than one year in areas that are deemed an ongoing threat to public health or safety, including due to:

  • death or serious bodily injury of any person at the location due to a hazardous condition;
  • repeated serious or violent crimes or threats of serious or violent crimes, including human trafficking; and
  • fires at the location.

The council on June 29, when passing a motion to request the city attorney draft the ordinance, also instructed the city administrative officer to develop and implement a Street Engagement Strategy within 30 days to offer people suitable and available overnight shelter, interim or permanent housing.

The motion also instructed all relevant city departments to minimize engagement between law enforcement and people experiencing homelessness by:

  • ensuring that service providers lead the Street Engagement Strategy and that people are offered interim or permanent housing services, treatment programs or other available interventions;
  • deploying available alternative-to-policing models, including interventionists and experts in conflict resolution; and
  • limiting law enforcement engagement to only where there is criminal behavior or activity and circumstances with a serious threat to public health or safety.

Several people called into the City Council meeting on July 1 to voice support and opposition for the ordinance.

Zachary Warma, legislative affairs manager for the Downtown Women's Center, said, "Implementing restrictions without first providing clarity as to how we are engaging unhoused residents and where they can ultimately go increases the odds of displacement, further traumatization, while putting housing and personal stability out of reach."

He asked the City Council to amend the ordinance to be contingent on developing "a robust street engagement strategy."

On Tuesday, the Our Future Los Angeles coalition called on the City Council to vote down the ordinance, saying "the criminalization of unhoused people has no place in L.A. We need to ensure everyone has access to safe and stable affordable housing."

Councilman Paul Krekorian, one of the leaders of the motion to request the ordinance, responded on July 1 to people alleging that the ordinance would criminalize homelessness by saying:

"This ordinance first of all does not make homelessness illegal. It does not criminalize homelessness. It does not make any conduct that is fundamental to being human illegal. What it does do is it guarantees that we will reestablish passable sidewalks. It protects the users of our public infrastructure and the unhoused residents of our city from being put into positions of interaction with automobiles, around loading docks, driveways and so forth. It guarantees access to our fire hydrants, entrances to buildings."

Many called into the City Council meeting on July 1 to voice support for the ordinance, saying the street encampments have become out of control.

"It is unacceptable that city leaders allow such encampments so close to schools and other enriching locations in our city. The impression on young minds is lasting," one caller said.

Nicole Mihalka, chair of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, called into the council meeting to call the encampments "untenable" for businesses and children, and asked the City Council to pass the ordinance and ensure strict enforcement.

Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced an amendment, which was adopted, to request monthly reports from the police and fire departments, as well as the Bureau of Sanitation on race, gender, location and type of enforcement when any enforcement occurs in the city pursuant to the ordinance.

The motion to request the ordinance was introduced as a substitute motion to a stricter anti-camping draft ordinance that was stalled in the Homelessness and Poverty Committee since November. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is running for mayor partly on an agenda to enforce the city's anti-camping laws, invoked a rarely used rule on June 23 to have the council pull the draft ordinance from committee.

Krekorian, who said that draft ordinance would allow a "draconian response" to homelessness, introduced the substitute motion to request the new ordinance with Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmen Ridley-Thomas, Mitch O'Farrell, Bob Blumenfield and Kevin de Leon.

The city's current anti-camping ordinance, which has not been enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, prohibits tents during daytime hours, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. On June 9, Buscaino requested that the council amend the mayor's Declaration of Local Emergency and resume enforcement of the current anti-camping ordinance.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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