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L.A. approves new rules on homeless encampments

LOS ANGELES — A set of rules allowing the city to more quickly dismantle homeless encampments won final approval June 23 from the Los Angeles City Council over the objections of a vocal group of protesters.

About a dozen protesters disrupted the council meeting, calling the rules “criminal” and jangling keys as they shouted “House keys, not storage!” while being escorted out of the council chamber by security officers.

Despite the outbursts, the council went ahead and adopted a faster process for removing personal property left on sidewalks and in city parks. The council had tentatively adopted the rules last week, but the decision was not unanimous and required a second vote.

City leaders who support the new rules say they will replace existing ones that are too broad and had rendered anything left on the ground vulnerable to seizure.

They also cited a 12 percent increase in the transient population and an 85 percent jump in the number of tents and encampments, based on the latest countywide homeless count.

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

Under the two ordinances approved, the noticing period before removing personal items from parks and sidewalks will be shortened from 72 hours to 24 hours. No notice will be needed for the removal of bulky items from sidewalks and parks.

The city will be required to store any non-bulky belongings for 90 days.

If the items are not claimed, the property may be discarded.

The ordinances were adopted as city officials work to reach a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the city by several homeless people. The case led to an injunction preventing the city from removing the belongings of the homeless.

One of the protesters, Pete White, told City News Service that they want city leaders to fund more housing for the poor, instead of following the current strategy of relying on enforcement and storage facilities.

“They’re not trying to build more housing,” White said, citing a city report that found that “we’re spending $100 million across everything that we do, and $87 million of that goes to the police department.”

White, who founded the Los Angeles Community Action Network — which targets issues affecting impoverished Angelenos — said the “real emphasis is on policing and enforcement … and really stop-gap measures that do very little to change the material conditions of people who live in the streets.”

White joined homeless advocates with the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition and other groups outside City Hall to protest the new rules, which they say will make it “nearly impossible” for the homeless to keep their belongings in a public area.

Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes downtown’s Skid Row area where many of the city’s homeless services are centralized, said last week that getting rid of the injunction “is a critical piece in getting a better handle” on homelessness in the city.

Huizar acknowledged there are some flaws in the newly adopted ordinances, but said the city has “court requirements, settlement discussions that are happening, so we have to move forward with something.”

He said the ordinances will be further refined in the City Council’s newly formed homeless committee, which he chairs.

One of the ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It will 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 bans tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but allows 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 — will be discarded without any advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice.