L.A. City Council Approves a Controversial Anti-Camping Ordinance

Lawmakers are attempting to get a handle on the city’s encampments by allowing case-by-case enforcement in sensitive areas, and homeless advocates are concerned

Los Angeles City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve an ordinance that will limit where in the city people can sit and sleep, an effort to clean up encampments and get people into housing. But opponents worry the measure will further criminalize homelessness and that there isn’t enough shelter space to accommodate the city’s entire unhoused population.

The ordinance prohibits sitting, sleeping, and keeping belongings within ten feet of a driveway or loading dock, within two feet of a fire hydrant, or in a way that obstruct sidewalks or right-of-ways. It also gives council members the ability to flag encampments near sensitive sites in their districts—daycares, schools, parks, libraries, freeway underpasses and on ramps—without establishing a blanket ban on camping in those places. Enforcement in those locations can’t take place until the City Council has reviewed the location and voted to approve action being taken.

A concern among homeless advocates is that the ordinance will be utilized differently by council members in various districts, creating “mini fiefdoms,” as Elizabeth Mitchell of the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights put it.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the ordinance, says it gives he and his counterparts the freedom to “take action as deemed appropriate” when a problematic encampment has been identified in a sensitive area. In a statement published by the L.A. Times he said, “By no means was this intended to allow a wholesale prohibition of the homeless from residing near all sensitive areas. And I will not be supportive of a process that facilitates this.”

The council has yet to establish how enforcement will be handled or by what entity, but Ridley-Thomas mentioned that homeless individuals could face fines. The council will also reportedly dispatch “street engagement teams” to offer housing and services.

Nithya Raman of District 4 and Mike Bonin of District 11 were the only two council members to vote against the measure. Prior to the vote, Raman—whose district includes Los Feliz, parts of Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills, and the Larchmont/Windsor Square area—dispatched a lengthy tweet thread about why she’d be voting no, explaining that she disagrees with the “disjointed” approach the council has taken to date. “Because we set homelessness policy in our own districts, Councilmembers end up competing for scarce resources, implementing redundant services, and shuffling encampments from place to place,” she wrote in one tweet. “Today’s ordinance will entrench that dysfunctional dynamic.”

In a subsequent tweet she said, “This ordinance gives [council members] the ability to ban camping in large parts of their districts. [Council members] who get more complaints will feel pressure to make homelessness illegal in as much of their own turf as possible—which will lead people to move elsewhere—potentially other districts.”

The proliferation of encampments in Raman’s district has become a point of contention with a portion of her constituents, some of whom have launched an effort to recall the political newcomer. A petition to recall Bonin, whose district includes Ocean Front Walk in Venice, was also recently approved.

The ordinance now heads to the desk of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who previously said he’d sign it.

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