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New Ordinance Allows Police To Remove People From Homeless Encampments In Fire Zones

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles City Council passed a new ordinance Wednesday in response to the city's homeless crisis and brush fire concerns.

The goal of the ordinance is to protect both the people living in homeless encampments and those living in the surrounding communities.

The ordinance gives Los Angeles police the authority to order homeless people out of encampments in high-risk fire-danger areas during heightened wildfire conditions.

"With wildfires being our new normal and an imminent threat to not just to many of our hillside communities but many of our communities throughout the San Fernando Valley...It is important that we are looking at more thoughtful changes to our municipal code that will help to provide more efficacy when it comes to evacuating many of these areas," Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said.

Under the ordinance, Cal Fire will map out L.A.'s severe fire zones and police will be able to remove people from them on high-risk days. Those who refuse to leave can be fined or arrested.

Recent fires underlined the risks. On July 30, a fire in the Sepulveda Basin threatened the lives of at least 100 people in an encampment. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

"What we are doing is providing all the wrap-around services," Rodriguez said. "When we evacuate these areas, we are getting them the services and resources they need to be permanently off the streets."

The fire that really fueled the ordinance was the Skirball Fire in December 2017. The fire scorched more than 400 acres of the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed half of a dozen homes, and damaged 12 others.

A preliminary investigation found it was sparked by an illegal cooking fire.

"For those homeless individuals who are shelter-resistant, they live in these encampments in high-brush areas, in the San Fernando valley among other areas, and this is a way of life," said City Councilman Joe Buscaino. "They have barbecues, they have open flames, and all it takes is one accident for that flame to trigger and ignite an entire brush area in these high-impact areas."

City Councilman Bob Blumenfield proposed the new law in January, and the council voted Wednesday 13-0 to pass it.

Councilmembers said they understood the concerns about having enough places for those homeless people to go.

The ordinance also calls for handing out fire education materials to people in encampments and is expected to go into effect in a matter of days.

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