June 18, 2015


By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou 

City News Service 


The Los Angeles City Council this week, gave tentative approval to rules for dismantling homeless encampments and removing personal property left on sidewalks and in city parks. Under the current process, the city gives 72 hours notice before removing personal items. The two ordinances tentatively backed by the council would shorten the notice period to 24 hours, and the city would be required to store the belongings for 90 days.


If the items are not claimed, the property may be discarded. No notice would be needed for the removal of bulky items from sidewalks and parks, under the rules. One of the ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It would allow officials to remove personal items that remain at city parks including beaches — past closing time and when there is already a sign at the park stating that leaving behind items is prohibited.


If there is no sign, the city would need to give 24 hours notice before items are removed. A second ordinance for sidewalks would ban tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but would allow the homeless to set up tents to use as shelter at night. If the city does not have enough space to store the items left on sidewalks, officials would not be allowed to remove them, city attorneys said.


Under both ordinances, any item that is a health or safety risk – such as something that could spread disease, contains vermin, or is a dangerous weapon — would be discarded without any advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice, under the rules. The ordinances are being considered as city officials work to reach a settlement in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by several homeless people.


The case led to an injunction that prevents the city from removing the belongings of the homeless. Councilman Jose Huizar said getting rid of the injunction “is a critical piece in getting a better handle” on homelessness in the city. The city has also put more money into homelessness response teams and sanitation crews, he said, adding that “we’ve got to build more housing.”


“But in the meantime it’s important for us to move forward and settle (the lawsuit), and get a better ordinance that would deal with items improperly left on public rights of way,” Huizar said.


He added that he is “not too comfortable with the timing” of the ordinances, “but we do have court requirements, settlement discussions that are happening, so we have to move forward with something.”


“I don’t think it’s a perfect ordinance,” he said, and he hopes to further discuss the rules in the City Council's newly formed homeless committee, which will hold its first meeting later this month.


He said the rules would “establish some conditions” so the city can reach a settlement in the lawsuit, but he hopes to adjust them to “strike a better balance” between the rights of the homeless and residents concerned about safety and cleanliness. Last month, Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores told the city’s Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee the current rules for removing items are too broad, and make it a “crime to leave personal belongings on a sidewalk.”


Flores said the new rules would “strike a balance by decriminalizing certain homeless individuals who need to set their belongings down, versus ... the current ordinance which makes every placing of the items on the sidewalk considered a crime.”


Councilman Mike Bonin, who will chair the homelessness committee, said that because of the city’s inability to deal with homelessness over the past 10 years, “we are now a city of encampments.”


City officials said the latest homeless count in Los Angeles County found there was a 12 percent increase in the homeless population, and an 85 percent jump in the “number of tents, makeshift encampments” and “vehicles occupied by homeless people.”


Bonin said the new rules succeed in that they shorten the notification period and no longer make it a crime just to set an item down in public. But he said the ordinance fails because it makes it “too easy to seize someone’s personal belongings, such as prescriptions and their personal documents,” while also not being strong enough to allow the city to clear public walkways in order to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since the votes were not unanimous, with Councilman Gil Cedillo casting the lone dissenting vote, the ordinances backed today must return to the council for a final vote.


Council members also introduced amendments to the ordinances, mostly to refine them and further define what is considered a “bulky item,” which the city would be allowed to remove immediately, under the rules. Those proposals will be considered by the homelessness committee. Homeless advocates who gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall spoke out against the new rules, saying the city should do more to provide housing instead of spending money to build storage facilities to hold the belongings of the homeless.


The city currently stores confiscated items in downtown’s Skid Row area.

Category: Community