The Los Angeles City Council will consider a motion Tuesday from Councilman Joe Buscaino to initiate a ballot measure for a law that would require the city to prioritize emergency temporary shelter production over permanent housing and would prohibit encampments across the city if enough shelter is available and offered.
The City Council has previously rejected proposals from Buscaino to prohibit camping by people who have been offered shelter.
The motion, which was seconded by Councilman John Lee, would instruct the City Attorney to prepare necessary documents to place a measure on the June 2022 primary election ballot that would:
— create a citywide ordinance to prohibit camping in all public areas if shelter is available and offered;
— require the city to prioritize immediate emergency shelter over other options, like permanent supportive housing; and
— provide the mayor with the authority to cut red tape and urgently build emergency homeless housing.
The measure would be on the same ballot as Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles.
The chair of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, Councilman Kevin de León — who is also running for mayor in 2022 — said he thought a ballot measure would be the wrong approach.
“Since the City Council is actively moving forward policies to address homeless encampments through strategic outreach and housing for people in need, a ballot measure seems the wrong approach. The fact is that a ballot measure would be extremely costly to taxpayers and would likely result in a continuation of the litigation merry-go-round that’s kept the city from implementing real solutions,” he said in a statement to City News Service.
Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who chaired the committee before being suspended from the City Council following his indictment on federal corruption and bribery charges, weighed in on Twitter Monday.
“This enforcement-driven framework will neither improve the conditions on our streets nor will it house anyone,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“The Council should categorically vote this item down and focus on implementing the Street Engagement Strategy they unanimously approved on Sept. 14.”
The City Council approved the strategy to accompany its new anti-camping law, which went into effect on Sept. 3. Under that law, camping in several areas of the city is prohibited, but most of the areas require a City Council vote before enforcement. People camping in areas chosen for enforcement are able to move their tents to other parts of the city if they do not accept shelter options.
Buscaino in his ballot measure proposal called for a “FEMA-like emergency response, interim housing and services” to scale up shelter options so the city can prohibit camping in all areas.
According to a pre-pandemic count, 66,436 people are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, with 41,290 of them in Los Angeles.
The city has about 15,000 shelter beds and 24,600 permanent housing slots. During a City Council meeting on July 1, Councilman Mike Bonin said the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told him the city only has enough beds for 39% of its homeless population.
Buscaino said in October, when he introduced the motion, that Los Angeles’ current system costs too much money and still leaves people on the streets, with about 1,383 homeless people dying in Los Angeles County last year.
Los Angeles’ 2021-22 fiscal year budget allocates nearly $1 billion to address the homelessness crisis. L.A. voters in November 2016 passed Proposition HHH to use $1.2 billion to build 10,000 units for homeless Angelenos, more than tripling Los Angeles’ annual production of supportive housing.
On Thursday, “Safer Streets LA,” a campaign to pass Buscaino’s proposed ballot measure, released a poll from ALG Research that found that 64% of 600 likely 2022 primary voters in Los Angeles would support a ballot measure to prohibit encampments in public areas, expand use of temporary housing and allow for expedited development of affordable housing for unhoused residents. The 64% ranged from “strongly yes” to “lean yes,” and a total of 28% ranged from “strongly no” to “lean no.” The remaining 8% were undecided. The poll was conducted between Nov. 9 and 14 by phone and text-to-web.
Lee said Friday he believed the city needs to address root causes of homelessness, “but while we do, we need to get people off the streets because being on the streets will only exacerbate the challenges our unhoused residents face.”
Councilman Mike Bonin, who has experienced being unhoused himself and is one of two City Council members to vote against adopting stricter anti-camping laws this summer, said in response to Buscaino’s motion that the way to solve the homelessness crisis is through housing and services, not enforcement.
“Everyone in L.A. will win when we help unhoused people move off the streets permanently through housing and needed services. Everyone in L.A. will suffer if we keep promoting failed, expensive strategies that rely on enforcement and a broken shelter system,” Bonin told City News Service Friday in a response to the ballot measure proposal. “Outlawing tents doesn’t end homelessness. Housing people does.”
Bonin has focused on permanent housing as opposed to temporary shelter, which would be prioritized under this ballot measure. The councilman brought 213 people living on the beach and Venice boardwalk indoors over summer with a pathway to permanent housing, and his office is currently in the midst of a similar “Encampment to Home” program in Westchester Park, which as of Wednesday had brought 56 people indoors, along with an additional 31 people over summer.