Against objections from activists, interest groups and two of their colleagues, Los Angeles City Council members on Thursday approved a new package of restrictions on camps near homeless shelters, daycare centers and a number of other public facilities.
Some argued that the measure would further criminalize homelessness and others said it took the city too long to trade schools and several other locations.
Proponents of the regulation said it would restore access to public spaces in a compassionate way, treat most violations as violations that can result in fines rather than jail time, and limit law enforcement involvement. They warned that their constituents would not continue to support new shelters and other homeless facilities unless the city shows they have regained control of the sidewalks and other public spaces.
Alderman Bob Blumenfield said he saw protests at his Woodland Hills residence after working to open two community shelters for unoccupied residents in his western San Fernando Valley ward.
If these facilities become a magnet for camps, “I will never be able to set up another hut community in my district,” he said.
Enemies of the ordinance said the city brought anti-camping rules to a vote without working through the details, such as the outreach strategy. Councilor Nithya Raman, one of those opponents, said the new law would simply result in the homeless being pushed from place to place.
“To find out where people can and cannot be homeless, we have to go through a deliberative process. It wasn’t that, ”said Raman, who represents Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks, and other affluent communities. “This was a quick and hasty process and it was carried out behind closed doors.”
Even some proponents sounded pessimistic about the city’s chances of making progress in tackling homelessness.
“This problem feels hopeless at the moment,” said City Councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who nonetheless voted “yes”.
The council’s protracted debate reflected growing frustration inside and outside the City Hall over the ongoing struggle to build housing and shelter for the city’s most needy, while restoring access to some of the city’s public spaces. Some members spoke openly about their own struggles with housing insecurity, while others described the suffering and death of homeless people in their districts.
Council President Nury Martinez admitted that she and her colleagues are under political pressure. She argued that the city’s working class families were left out of the debate as they were drowned out by activists using hashtags on Twitter.
“What about the immigrants who come into this country with absolutely nothing and work their asses off to raise their families?” She asked. “Why are they not entitled to a safe park? Why are they not entitled to a safe library? Why can’t they enjoy a day in their neighborhood if they don’t have the money to go to Disneyland or the beach?
“These are the people who are missing from this conversation,” said Martinez, who represents working-class neighborhoods like Sun Valley, Arleta and Panorama City.
The vote comes Thursday as homelessness has metastasized, with camps growing in Hollywood, Koreatown, South Los Angeles and dozen other locations. It has become by far the most pressing problem for the city’s politicians less than a year away from a local election.
Proponents of the homeless have described the city’s response as pathetically inadequate, arguing that many of the facilities that have opened do not meet the needs of the city’s people. Neighborhood groups have expressed frustration over bonfires and the tents that have filled parks, sidewalks, and library entrances. And residents on both sides are alarmed by the number of people on the streets who have fallen into poverty, many of whom are struggling with addiction or mental illness.
Against this background, the city is providing six council members who are standing for re-election, a seventh for the city controller and an eighth for the mayor. Four more are considering or have not ruled out an application for mayor in the elections in June 2022.
Councilor Mike Bonin, who is running for re-election and recently served a dismissal for homelessness, said he has faced vitriol over his decision to oppose the new ordinance. However, he argued that he cannot support this at a time when the city is still lacking emergency shelter beds to support 61% of the homeless population.
In a passionate address, Bonin described his own story as a recovering addict who at one point had no home and slept in his car, on friends’ couches, and for a few nights on the beach.
“I cannot describe how demoralizing and dehumanizing and crushing the experience is when you don’t know where to sleep,” he said.
Bonin has joined a coalition of advocacy groups who say the move will not help the city’s an estimated 41,000 uninhabited residents.
“Instead, it doubles the city’s criminalization strategy,” said the coalition, which includes organizations like Ground Game Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.
Alderman Mark Ridley-Thomas denied these arguments, saying he and his colleagues amended the proposal Thursday to ensure that camping violations are treated as worst-case violations that would result in fines – not an offense that involves jail threatens.
“It’s a really big deal because part of the homelessness crisis in the city of Los Angeles is the number of people arrested,” he said. “You … end up in Men’s Central [jail] and their conditions are deteriorating. “
The anti-camping regulation can only come into effect after a second vote by the council members, which is expected to take place at the end of the month.
Mayor Eric Garcetti supports the regulation, said his spokesman. Several business leaders also welcomed the council’s decision, saying they were facing theft, fire and other public safety issues that they associate with camps.
Commercial real estate agent Marty Shelton said at least three fires had broken out in a warehouse next to a Hollywood mall where he is handling leasing agreements. Two other fires had started in trash cans on the property, he said.
“They burned trash cans and threw trash cans through the windows of one of my stores,” Shelton told the council.
The mechanisms of the new regulation have alarmed both those who advocate the uninhabited and those who are calling for the camps to be removed more quickly.
Ahead of the council vote on Thursday on new camping restrictions, people gather outside LA City Hall.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The measure gives the council the power to ban sitting, sleeping or storing objects within 150 meters of “sensitive purposes” such as day care centers, public and private schools, libraries and parks. However, it also means that enforcement in these areas can only take place once the Council has adopted a decision designating a specific location as the target of enforcement.
As a result, enforcement decisions depend heavily on the wishes of each council member, said Mike Dickerson, co-founder of the homeless group Ktown for All. Some will be more aggressive than others in clearing camps, he said.
“It just creates an arbitrary patchwork of regulations that are essentially non-observable,” said Dickerson.
A homeless resident who lives in a MacArthur Park motel named Adrian said the ordinance will make life worse for him and other unhodged people. “This law is way too broad and open to abuse,” he said.
The council is already using resolutions to limit the places where oversized vehicles, often used as homes for LA residents, can legally park, said Shayla Myers, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation in Los Angeles.
“Are we opening the doors for years of council meetings in which the city is getting smaller block by block, where uninhabited people can live?” She asked.
Allan Parsons, a Venice resident who is frustrated by the number of camps in his neighborhood, said he, too, believed that enforcement would depend on each council member. But Parsons predicted that Bonin, who represents the region, will simply refuse to enforce the council’s latest law.
“It’s just moving the deck chairs,” he said.