The Los Angeles City Council discussed a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would enforce where homeless people can sleep on public property, but members took no action on the matter and it was sent back to committee for more deliberation.
“The proposed ordinance, I want to just outright say, it was never meant to be a solution to homelessness, and it certainly was not meant to make homelessness unlawful,” Council President Nury Martinez said. “I know that many of the most vociferous critics continue to repeat that the ordinance is the wrong solution to homelessness. The ironic thing is I totally agree with them, in that creating buffer zones around freeways and shelters is not an answer to homelessness.”
Martinez moved the proposed ordinance back to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee for further review, but she said wants the details of it ironed out and “soon” so the council can take actual action on it.
Before the council president moved the proposed ordinance, nearly all council members spoke about what they’ve been seeing in their respective districts and what needs to be done going forward.
Many council members said the city should provide adequate shelters and housing before enforcing where homeless people sleep, but they also acknowledged the frustration their constituents have voiced to them about the growing number and size of encampments.
According to representatives with the City Attorney’s Office, under the Martin v. Boise decision from 2018 in U.S. District Court, the city must provide housing first before enforcing where homeless people can reside on public property, but there are options to govern those spaces.
The City Council could prohibit camping in discreet areas and use a variety of enforcement measures, but most council members said they do not want police officers responding to housing or mental health issues, as those issues aren’t within their purview.
City attorney representatives said the ordinance would serve the city best if enforcement is used as a last resort against someone who refuses to move or accept services.
Councilman Joe Buscaino said during the council meeting that if the city doesn’t implement certain rules on where people can sleep on public property, neighborhoods will continued to be hampered by their presence.
“…The opponents of this ordinance are trying to suggest that if we set any rules, any restrictions on where someone can set up camp or how much public space they can take up, that we are criminalizing homelessness,” Buscaino said. “We clearly need to have reasonable rules and regulations on our sidewalks, otherwise we’ll continue to witness the deterioration of everyone’s quality of life in the city.”
Buscaino showed a map of Los Angeles county cities that had adopted laws that in some ways prohibited homelessness, such as a ban on overnight RV parking, a ban on storing belongings on public property, a ban on camping on sidewalks and a ban on people living in vehicles or a combination or the laws.
Most all cities shown on the map except Los Angeles had passed at least one of the laws.
Councilman Mike Bonin said the city’s homeless encampments are now starting to look like “Hoovervilles,” makeshift shelters that were built during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“I dare say that we would not look favorably on elected officials from the 1930s to tell people they couldn’t be in Hoovervilles, absent the alternative (of living in housing provided to them),” Bonin said. “Let’s use all the hotels that are offered, and let’s begin to use ones that are not. We need to be aggressive moving forward with canceling renting or mortgages. We need to get the money the county has given us out the door, use money we still are not spending that can be used for rapid rehousing or shared housing.”
Councilman Gil Cedillo said more permanent supportive housing and shelters could be established immediately in his district if it weren’t for building restrictions he had run into. He said the proposals were denied because they weren’t “perfect,” but that “perfect has become the enemy of the good.”
The City Council in October decided against requesting the creation of an ordinance that would govern where people are allowed to sit, sleep or rest, saying the panel needed more time to deliberate.
The proposals, as they are currently written, would direct city staff to specify the times, locations and circumstances in which it’s unlawful to sit, lie or sleep on the street, by:
— requiring an offer of shelter be provided before enforcing the general rule against sleeping, lying or sleeping on the street;
— prohibiting blocking the passage required under the Americans With Disabilities Act, either personally or with one’s property;
— prohibiting blocking building entrances and driveways, either personally or with one’s property;
— authorizing the council to designate specific new homeless shelter and service locations within up to 500 feet of which it would be unlawful to sit, lie or sleep or store property; and
— authorizing the council to designate specific freeway overpasses, underpasses and similar locations within up to 500 feet of which it would be unlawful to sit, lie or sleep or store property.
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