Amid the ongoing homelessness crisis, the Los Angeles City Council is supporting a plan that seeks new rules restricting sitting, sleeping and storing property in different locations throughout Los Angeles in an effort to clear encampments occupying public spaces.
The City Attorney’s Office will have to quickly write new rules to prevent or restrict people from staying on sidewalks that block wheelchair access or are within specific distances from fire hydrants, schools, parks, libraries, freeways, underpasses, shelters and other locations.
On Tuesday, councilmen Joe Buscaino, who is running for mayor, and John Lee had the council pull to the floor an anti-camping ordinance from the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, where it had been sitting since last November.
But Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas then unexpectedly introduced another, substitute measure that he described as more humane, and said would limit the use of law enforcement.
After debate about the fate of language introduced in the anti-camping measure from last fall and other concerns with the proposal, the council ultimately voted 12 to 3 in favor of the substitute motion, sending the matter to the city attorney rather than approving new anti-camping rules right away.
Some lawmakers voiced concerns that the ordinance wasn’t ready and that more information is needed on where homeless people would go if sites they pitched their tents in are restricted.
“I don’t want people living in our parks. I don’t want people living in bike lanes,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice. “But if we’re going to say no to that, then we need to be saying where people can go.”
Bonin voted against the ordinance, saying, “If we don’t have the 20,000 beds, where are people left to go?”
Councilmember Nithya Raman also voted against the measure.
“This is a law that impacts every resident of this city and right now. I feel like I’m making a decision on this law without the information I need to understand the impacts of this law,” Raman said. “And I’m not asking that we postpone this debate, but simply that we gather that information and have that discussion — and make sure that we stay in session until we finish that discussion.”
The new ordinance will go to another vote on Thursday.
Ridley-Thomas said homeless residents need alternative housing options before they are restricted from occupying public property.
“If we truly want to make a significant impact in addressing the moral crisis of our time that is homelessness, the solution does not lie in criminalizing our unhoused neighbors for occupying public spaces, it lies in scaling up sustainable solutions to transition Angelenos safely indoors, while also ensuring that our streets remain clean and accessible — and this first begins with a ‘Right to Housing,'” Ridley-Thomas said in a written statement.
According to the measure, officials will be instructed to develop a strategy that would include offering overnight shelter, interim housing or permanent housing to people who had been staying in areas where camping will be restricted.
The measure seeks to minimize engagement with law enforcement when there is no crime being committed by having homeless service providers and outreach staff lead the effort to clear the public spaces and offer alternate housing.
L.A. currently has an anti-camping ordinance that prohibits people from pitching tents during daytime hours, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., but that has not been enforced during the pandemic. Buscaino has been requesting that the city resume its daytime ban on the sidewalk encampments.
“I’m simply asking that our unhoused residents abide by some basic rules so that we can have cleaner, passable public spaces,” Buscaino told KTLA Monday.
Buscaino said he’s “skeptical” of the city attorney drafting ordinances and voted against the motion that passed Tuesday.