LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday backed a proposal by five council members to amend the city's law against homeless encampments in certain areas of the city to extend to within 500 feet of all schools and day care facilities.
The ordinance already restricts sleeping and encampments within 500 feet of schools and day care facilities after each individual location is approved for enforcement by the City Council. On Tuesday, the council voted 13-2 to have the city attorney prepare an ordinance amendment to prohibit sitting, lying, sleeping or storing personal property within 500 feet of "any school or daycare."
The amendment will need to be approved by the City Council before going into effect.
The motion for the amendment was introduced by Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmen Kevin de León, Curren Price, Paul Krekorian and Joe Buscaino during the meeting and was not on the council's agenda.
"It has taken too long. We shouldn't have to have this debate to prohibit encampments next to school yards. It's getting worse. Our students and faculty and parents should not be subjected to those who refuse help and see open drug use," said Buscaino, who introduced a similar motion nine months ago.
Buscaino acknowledged the opposition but believes the issue needs to be addressed.
"To the opponents who are opposing this, including a couple of my colleagues, what's with the debate? Schools are sacred grounds. Why debate? Why study? Why vote no on this? We have to protect our students, our families and our teachers," he said.
Martinez said Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who took office in February, contacted her office saying that teachers, principals and parents had reached out to several schools concerned about encampments.
"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 said.
He added that he was concerned about the "trauma" and "long-term, short-term repercussions (and) impact on the psychological, cognitive development of children."
The superintendent told the council that he was speaking about the issue as someone who has experienced homelessness himself while he was 18 years old in Miami, where he slept under a bridge.
"This is coming from someone who understands the experience, has lived the experience, I understand the plight, I understand the fragility of the human condition. That's why I feel I have a voice on it," he added.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who also has experience being unhoused, and Councilwoman Nithya Raman voted against the motion to amend the ordinance.
"We don't have a system in place right now where we have adequate numbers of shelter beds, we don't have our street (outreach) strategy actually fully resourced, we don't have outreach workers that go out with our CARE+ to make sure that people are noticed and adequately informed about cleanups," Raman said. "None of the other structures that we need to have in place in order to make this city's response to homelessness an effective response to homelessness are currently in place right now. And the results of that are sadly too visible on our streets."
Bonin reiterated concerns he had when the council approved the ordinance last year, saying "we're spending a lot of time defining where people cannot sleep. Where can they sleep?"
"Los Angeles has an opportunity to either end homelessness or to try to make it less visible, and I think we're too often focused on ways of making it less visible," Bonin added later in the meeting.
Bonin and Raman also voted against approving the ordinance last summer, which modified the city's previous anti-camping law in Municipal Code 41.18 to prohibit sitting, sleeping, lying, storing personal property or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the city. Those areas include within two feet of any fire hydrant or fire plug; within five 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.
It also protected the public right of way within 500 feet of a "sensitive" facility (which included schools, day care facilities, parks and libraries) once the council passes a resolution to designate a specific area for enforcement, posts signage and gives notice of the date the ordinance will be enforced for the area.
"I just don't believe that any preschooler or any students walking to school or walking home should have to deal with these large encampments in and around their schools," Martinez said Tuesday.
The ordinance also prohibits encampments and sleeping within:
- Up to 500 feet of a designated overpass, underpass, freeway ramp, tunnel, bridge, pedestrian bridge, subway, wash or spreading ground, railroad track or where lodging unsheltered or in tents is unhealthy, unsafe and incompatible with safe passage; and
- Up to 1,000 feet of a facility opened after Jan. 1, 2018 that provides shelter, safe sleeping, safe parking or navigation centers for persons experiencing homelessness.
The ordinance also allows the city to prevent encampments for a period of no longer than one year in areas that are deemed an ongoing threat to public health or safety, including due to:
- Death or serious bodily injury of any person at the location due to a hazardous condition;
- Repeated serious or violent crimes or threats of serious or violent crimes, including human trafficking; and
- Fires at the location.
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.