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Homeless encampments near schools banned by LA City Council after heated meeting

Homeless encampments near schools banned by LA City Council after heated meeting
Homeless encampments near schools banned by LA City Council after heated meeting 02:14

Despite an hour-long disruption by opponents who interrupted the meeting with chants, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday that bans homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers. 

Opponents shouted in the council chambers before the ordinance passed by a vote of 11-3 in favor of the measure, with Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Nithya Raman and Marqueece Harris-Dawson dissenting.

Another vote next week is still needed to pass the ordinance because there were two options for consideration for the motion, and the vote was again not unanimous.

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.

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.

The interruption began when Councilman Joe Buscaino, who first proposed the idea of an encampment ban near schools last year, rose to speak. Members of the audience started chanting, "Shut it down!" and preventing Buscaino from talking. 

Martinez then announced a 15-minute recess that ended up lasting around an hour, while more than 50 people remained in the chambers, chanting and making speeches accusing the council of criminalizing homelessness.

"That was the greatest standing ovation I've ever received in my career, but it also says a lot about a group of people who want to shut down democracy," Buscaino said after the council returned to the chambers.

Council President Nury Martinez called the disruption "incredibly disturbing."

"What we witnessed here this morning unfortunately was really an attempt to try and keep us from taking a vote," Martinez said. "I think people were intent this morning to shut this place down and keep us from doing the very job that we were all elected to do."

Opponents packed the council chambers Tuesday in a spirited public comment session prior to the disruption, heckling the councilmembers, snapping their fingers and holding signs that read, "Repeal 41.18."

The ordinance also expands Municipal Code 41.18 to include areas 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 July 1, and approved previously by the council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee, is a blanket ban on encampments within 500 feet of all schools. 

"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.

Councilmembers who supported the ordinance pointed to keeping kids safe, with Councilman Mitch O'Farrell pushing back against the protesters and claiming that it is a false narrative that the unhoused have nowhere else to go. He said the city doesn't do sweeps, has various successful and robust programs to serve the unhoused and is ramping up temporary shelters in his district.

But Bonin argued that the ordinance is based on a false premise that unhoused people are refusing to go indoors and that the city has ample space for them. He claimed that 60% of people living on the streets of Los Angeles can't find shelter, referring to a lawsuit that the city settled in April.

The council voted 10-1 in favor of the ordinance last month, with Bonin dissenting. But since that initial vote was not unanimous, a second vote had to be taken Tuesday for the matter to pass.

Outside City Hall on Tuesday, Dwayne Hollis and Ruben Garcia, two members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, stood next to a sign that read: "41.18 = Death." They had set up snacks on a bench for their group ahead of the meeting. Hollis, a Vietnam War veteran who has experienced homelessness, called the ordinance a byproduct of an unfair fight between the rich and the poor.

"The main thing is, (the city) let the homeless thing get out of hand, and now they're trying to take the bull by the horn," Hollis said. 

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