L.A. City Council votes to ban homeless encampments near schools

Photo credit Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In a sometimes-raucous meeting that was repeatedly
interrupted by shouting from the audience, the Los Angeles City Council
tentatively approved an ordinance today banning homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers.

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The council approved the move on a 10-1 vote, with Councilman Mike
Bonin dissenting. Since the vote was not unanimous, the matter will return to
the council for a second vote on July 27, following the council's summer

The ordinance is an amendment to the city's sweeping law regulating
the location of homeless encampments. Municipal Code 41.18 prohibits sitting, sleeping, lying or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the city.

Those areas include within 2 feet of any fire hydrant or fire plug; within 5 feet of any operational or utilizable entrance or exit; within 10 feet of a loading dock or driveway; in a manner that interferes with any activity for which the city has issued a permit or restricts accessible passage as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act; or anywhere within a street, including bike paths.

The law already protects the public right of way within 500 feet of
“sensitive'' facilities such as schools, day care facilities, parks and
libraries -- but only if each specific location is designated by the council
for enforcement.

The amendment given tentative approval Friday, and approved last week
by the council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee, is a blanket ban on
encampments within 500 feet of all schools.

Numerous speakers appeared at the council meeting to speak on both
sides of the issue, with opponents blasting the move as a criminalization of
homelessness. One speaker called it an example the city's ``cruelty'' against
the homeless population.

“This isn't about fixing homelessness, it's about aesthetics,'' one
opponent said.

Others called it a vast expansion of an already restrictive ordinance
restricting the movements of a homeless population in need of services and

But supporters of the ordinance, including some parents and school
workers, said the issue is a matter of safety for children who must walk by
encampments on their way to classes. One parent and school worker told the
council it ``will help reduce the risk that my students, their families and my
colleagues face on a daily basis because of the criminal activity that has been

A school principal told the council the encampments expose students to
“unsafe, unsanitary conditions.''

Bonin opposed the measure, suggesting that it will just move the
homeless around and adding, ``Making it less visible doesn't make it go away.''

“In some ways we actually make it worse,'' he said. “By displacing
people we actually disconnect people'' from housing and other services.

Councilmen Mitch O'Farrell and Paul Krekorian, however, spoke in favor
of the ordinance, dismissing allegations by opponents that the council is
only trying to cover up the homelessness issue rather than address it through
housing and services.

Multiple opponents of the measure began shouting from the audience as
the councilmen spoke, bringing the meeting to a halt while Council President
Nury Martinez issued warnings then ordered at least three people to be ejected from the council chamber. O'Farrell and Krekorian, both visibly angered, said the conduct exemplified the ``bullying'' tactics of some organizations.

O'Farrell accused them of spreading ``disinformation.''

“You can protest all you want, but it doesn't change the truth,'' O'Farrell said. “The truth is the city is engaged in housing people. It is our focus.''

Krekorian added, “These bullies who want to disrupt our business do
not want to acknowledge that kind of success.''

“We need to move forward with common-sense solutions,'' he said. “We
are not criminalizing homelessness at all with this change. We are taking actions necessary to restore some degree of sanity and civility to our streets,
and at the very same time we are protecting the young people of this city.''

Councilman Joe Buscaino proposed the idea of an encampment ban near
schools last year, but it never gained traction.

The issue was revived earlier this year, in part due to the urging of Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said teachers, principals and parents have expressed concerns about homeless encampments near campuses.

“I've seen elementary schools with conditions that none of us as parents would find acceptable for children. Individuals with mental illness, some of them absolutely unclothed, shouting profanities in the listening ear of children,'' Carvalho told the council previously.

Buscaino, who sits on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, said last week that approving the amendment will “ensure the most sacred places
among us, our playgrounds and schools, are safe.''

The city ordinance already in place also prohibits encampments and
sleeping within:

-- up to 500 feet of a designated overpass, underpass, freeway ramp,
tunnel, bridge, pedestrian bridge, subway, wash or spreading ground, railroad
track or where lodging unsheltered or in tents is unhealthy, unsafe and
incompatible with safe passage; and
   -- up to 1,000 feet of a facility opened after Jan. 1, 2018, that
provides shelter, safe sleeping, safe parking or navigation centers for persons
experiencing homelessness.
   The ordinance also allows the city to prevent encampments for a period
of no longer than one year in areas that are deemed an ongoing threat to
public health or safety, including due to:
   -- death or serious bodily injury of any person at the location due to
a hazardous condition;
   -- repeated serious or violent crimes or threats of serious or violent
crimes, including human trafficking; and
   -- fires at the location.

People who violate the ordinance face an infraction or citation, but
“a person who willfully resists, delays or obstructs a city employee from
enforcing this section or who willfully refuses to comply after being requested
to do so by an authorized city employee'' can face higher fines and a
misdemeanor charge, according to the ordinance.

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