Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Civil rights protesters were unable to persuade Mayor Eric Garcetti today to veto revisions to the city’s municipal code that they claim will make it easier for the city to seize and destroy homeless people’s belongings left in public areas.

But the activists were promised a meeting later this week with the mayor’s homeless policy director to discuss the issue further.

The protesters contend two ordinances recently approved by the City Council include discriminatory provisions making compliance impossible for homeless people, the disabled, street vendors and others. The ordinances become law Tuesday if not vetoed by Garcetti.

Mayoral spokesman Jeff Millman said there will be “no mayoral action today” on the two ordinances.

Garcetti, who is on vacation in Oregon and not expected back in Los Angeles until tomorrow, announced last week he would not sign the ordinances, but they will still become law. Garcetti said he would instead block enforcement of the ordinances until the City Council eliminates the misdemeanor penalty for violations and removes medicines and documents from the list of items that can be seized.

About two dozen civil rights protesters from the Los Angeles Community Action Network, the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition and other groups demonstrated outside the mayor’s residence this morning to call for a mayoral veto.

Some of the protesters also visited City Hall this afternoon to present their written demands to the mayor’s office. They were detained on the first floor lobby and were not allowed to enter the mayor’s office on the third floor. Garcetti’s homeless policy director, Greg Spiegel, went out to speak to them instead, arranging to meet with them again Friday morning to discuss the ordinances.

One of the protesters, Peggy Lee Kennedy, urged Spiegel not to wait until Friday, and to advise the mayor to veto the ordinances today.

“That’s nice that you’re going to amend (the ordinances), but technically it’s a misdemeanor within a couple of days,” she said, which could mean that “all these people who have no other option but to be homeless are going to get misdemeanor tickets.”

LA CAN President Pete White told City News Service he hopes Garcetti will also attend the meeting. He contends the mayor does not actually have the power to stop the Los Angeles Police Department from enforcing the law.

“I don’t think people are going to forget this,” he said. “(Garcetti’s) voting pattern and backbone has always been in question, even in City Council.”

During his mayoral campaign, Garcetti promised to “end chronic homelessness,” White said. “That’s a bold statement to make in Los Angeles, a city that has had a durable population and no housing agenda for poor people in the city for the last decade.”

The protesters also gave Spiegel a flier today that appears to have been circulated by the Arts District Business Improvement District, which references 56.11, the name of the municipal codes that are to be revised.

The flier states that “all personal belongings” should be removed ahead of a “major sidewalk, alleys and other public areas cleaning” on July 29.

Several members of the City Council also expressed misgivings about the ordinances last month, but adopted them anyway. Some said the ordinances were necessary to settle a lawsuit over the confiscation of items left in public areas.

Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes downtown’s Skid Row area where many of the city’s homeless services are centralized, acknowledged prior to the vote that the ordinances are flawed, but the city has “court requirements, settlement discussions that are happening, so we have to move forward with something.”

Carol Sobel, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against the city challenging its ability to remove belongings from sidewalks, disputed Huizar’s claim. She contends that “it wasn’t necessary for the city to adopt the ordinance” prior to reaching a settlement.

“You can settle (the case) and then adopt the ordinance in a much more considered amount of time, instead of adopting an ordinance that you believe is bad public policy the way it’s written and you already announced you’re going to amend,” Sobel told CNS.

Sobel added that the issue of homelessness is “only going to get worse and I think the mayor has his head in the sand.”

“He’s not dealing with it. There’s no leadership,” she said. “Not signing (the ordinances) is not leadership.”

One of the adopted ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It will allow officials to remove personal items that remain at city parks — including beaches — past closing time and when there is already a sign at the park stating that leaving behind items is prohibited.

If there is no sign, the city would need to give 24 hours notice before items are removed.

A second ordinance for sidewalks bans tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but allows the homeless to set up tents to use as shelter at night.

If the city does not have enough space to store the items left on sidewalks, officials would not be allowed to remove them, city attorneys have said.

Under both ordinances, any item that is a health or safety risk — such as something that could spread disease, contains vermin or is a dangerous weapon — will be discarded without any advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice.

Garcetti said last week he did not believe the ordinances “achieve the proper balance” between keeping public areas “clean and safe” and protecting the “rights of people who have no choice but to live on them.”

—City News Service

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