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LA Considers Clearing Homeless Encampments On High-Risk Fire Days

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The Los Angeles City Council is considering an ordinance that would allow the city to clear out homeless people from brush-filled areas during high-risk fire days.

Sepulveda Basin brush fire
A brush fire burns in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area in Encino, Calif., on July 30, 2019. (CBS2)

The L.A. City Council's Public Safety Committee is taking up the ordinance Wednesday, which would allow authorities to remove homeless encampments from certain restricted areas that are not considered public roadways, established trails or recognized campsites.

"The presence of individuals camping or dwelling in brush areas within the City's Very High Fire
Hazard Severity Zone (Zone) remains a serious public safety concern," reads the motion, which was first proposed by Councilman Bob Blumenfield back in January. "The risk of wildfire caused by activities of unauthorized individuals within the Zone must be addressed and mitigated."

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor.

"Once the ordinance is enforcement will be able to give direct notice to individuals living in fire danger zones that they must move," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference last week in Van Nuys. "That means that on these hot, red-flag days that come up during the summertime and increasingly year-round, we can now take a major step toward reducing the likelihood of encampment fires like we saw in 2017 with the Skirball Fire and last month in the Sepulveda Basin."

The 422-acre Skirball Fire, which broke out in December 2017 near the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed six homes, damaged 12 others, and prompted the evacuation of about 700 homes. It also shut down the 405 Freeway. The fire was deemed to have been sparked by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment near the 405 Freeway.

Last month, a brush fire tore through about 10 acres of thick brush in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area of Encino and displaced dozens of homeless people.

Also Wednesday, the L.A. City Controller released a scathing report which criticized the L.A. Homeless Services Authority's (LAHSA) efforts to combat the crisis. The report found that LAHSA did not show improvement between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years. LAHSA failed to meet five of the eight citywide outreach goals it had set for 2018-19, the report found. Among those goals was placing 10 percent of the homeless individuals it assessed into permanent housing. The agency was only able to place 4 percent of them.

To read the full report, click here.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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