Will The City’s New No-Camping Ordinance Actually Be Enforced?

As usual, the City is getting in its own way.

A few weeks back, there was a lot of buzz about the City finally passing a new no-camping ordinance, which many hoped would bring some much needed relief to their communities.  Unfortunately, the version of LAMC 41.18 adopted earlier this month only creates more delays and will lead to inconsistent application and enforcement across the City.

Let’s dive in.  The new ordinance only narrowly restricts sitting, lying, sleeping, storing, using, maintaining, or placing personal property:

  • in a manner that impedes passage under the ADA;
  • within 10 feet of a driveway or loading dock;
  • within 5 feet of any building entrance or exit;
  • within 2 feet of a fire hydrant;
  • in a public right of way in a manner that obstructs or interferes with any activity for which the City has issued a permit; and
  • in a public street, bike lane, or bike path.

Encampments can be prohibited up to a maximum of 500 feet from a school, daycare, park or library; up to a maximum of 500 feet from a freeway ramp, underpass, or overpass; and up to a maximum of 1,000 feet from a homeless shelter opened after January 1, 2018.  However, in any of these circumstances, the entire City Council must first adopt a resolution “to designate a specified area or areas for enforcement.”  The City must also post signage in the area, and then wait 14 days to begin enforcement.

In order to clear encampments from the streets, sidewalks, or other areas, the entire City Council must vote on a resolution “based on specific documentation” showing that obstructing the public right-of-way at that location “poses a particular and ongoing threat to public health or safety.”  According to the ordinance, such circumstances “may include but are not limited to: (i) the death or serious bodily injury of any person at the location due to a hazardous condition; (ii) repeated serious or violent crimes, including human trafficking, at the location; or (iii) the occurrence of fires that resulted in a fire department response to the location.”  Even when such a resolution is voted on by the City Council, it will only be effective for up to one year.[1]

The ordinance fails to define what “specific documentation” is necessary to prove the unsafe conditions.  It also does not define how many fires, violent crimes, or deaths are necessary in order to designate an encampment an “ongoing threat to public health and safety.”  Frankly, these legal vagaries raise more questions than they answer.

The new ordinance leaves entirely too much discretion to individual Councilmembers to determine if and when the ordinance will be enforced in his or her district.  And even if other members of the Council do decide to bring forward enforcement resolutions, a law enforced in Westwood does nothing for Westchester, and a law enforced in Van Nuys does nothing for Venice.  Mike Bonin voted against the new ordinance, so we have no reason to believe he use it to bring relief to CD-11.  And, enforcement in other parts of the City will only make the problem here even worse.

In any event, prior to any enforcement, there will be a comprehensive “street engagement strategy,” which involves social workers, mental health specialists, and others to offer shelter or housing and services.  On July 28, 2021, City Administrative Officer Matthew Szabo recommended that the street engagement strategy be “implemented as a pilot,” even though he acknowledges that the recommended procedures are what outreach teams are already doing.  Mr. Szabo also requested that LAHSA use its 17 City-funded Homeless Engagement Teams for the effort (at a price tag of $4.2+ million dollars).  His proposal allows for up to four months of engagement before enforcement commences.[2]

Following this CAO report, the Homelessness and Poverty Committee brought a motion requesting adoption of Mr. Szabo’s recommendations.  That motion also seeks to “convene a working group to assess, select, and triage one pilot location in each Council District to implement the Street Engagement Strategy and report back to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee in February 2022 on the results and lessons learned.”[3]

Yes, you read that right.  A working group, a six-month delay, and only one location to be enforced per Council District under the proposed “pilot program.”  Meanwhile, people remain sick, addicted, and dying on the streets, and kids in our communities can’t even safely walk to school.  The idea of delaying implementation of the new ordinance except in whatever 15 specific locations are granted the blessing of our elected leaders is the exact “arbitrary determination of where homelessness will and will not be tolerated” that the LA Alliance lawsuit is fighting against.

Our City leaders have had years to run pilot programs, form working groups, and figure out solutions.  Enough with the bureaucracy.  Enough with the delays.  Enough with the excuses.  It’s time to stop talking and start doing!

Keep doing your best, and I will do the same.

Traci Park

[1] https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2020/20-1376-S1_ord_draft_7-02-21.pdf

[2] https://markridley-thomas.lacity.org/sites/g/files/wph1891/files/2021-07/20210728%20CAO%20REPORT%20BACK%20-%20STREET%20ENGAGEMENT%20STRATEGY.pdf

[3] https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2020/20-1376_misc_a_8-12-21.pdf

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