LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles City Council passed a sweeping anti-camping measure Thursday that will severely limit widespread homeless encampments that have become an eyesore across the city.
The measure was billed as a compassionate approach to get people off streets and restore access to public spaces in the city with nation's second-largest homeless population, though critics said it would criminalize the problem. It wouldn’t be enforced until someone has turned down an offer of shelter.
“I can’t think of any reason why we would not unite in support of what the people of Los Angeles want us to do," said Councilman Paul Krekorian, coauthor of the measure. "Restore order to our streets, while also uplifting and providing services to those in need.”
Among other limits, the ordinance that passed 13-2 would ban sitting, lying, sleeping or storing personal property on sidewalks that block handicap access, near driveways and within 500 feet (152 meters) of schools, day care centers, libraries or parks.
The measure, which won't take effect until a second vote next month, replaces a more punitive anti-camping proposal that had stalled in a committee. Police would only get involved if there's a crime, and people who resist leaving would be cited for an infraction instead of getting arrested for a misdemeanor.
The majority of callers during a limited public comment period spoke in support of the measure, describing homeless encounters that included assaults, break-ins and one explaining how children walking to school are forced into a busy street to avoid tents that crowd sidewalks.
People who opposed the measure, including a couple who used profanity, said it lacked compassion and would criminalize a problem the city has failed to solve.
An advocate for the homeless said the measure is loosely written to allow broad interpretation for enforcement and will make most of the city off-limits to people living on the street.
“Draconian is definitely the correct word,” said Pete White of the LA Community Action Network. “I think it’s impossible to comply.”
White said that an ordinance that limited where people could park RVs and sleep in cars overnight left little more than 5% of streets available for parking.
Homelessness has become a crisis of "epic proportions,” the measure says. It remains near the top of political agendas across the state.
California is home to more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless people, according to federal data. The city of Los Angeles has an estimated homeless population of more than 40,000, which is second only to New York's.
A federal judge directed the city of LA to offer housing to thousands of homeless people on notorious Skid Row by this fall, though an appeals court put that on hold.
Two Republican candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a recall election came to LA County this week to announce their plans to address the statewide problem.
While the crisis is widespread across Los Angeles, a dispute about how to solve the problem has become a flashpoint on Venice Beach, where an encampment exploded in size during the coronavirus pandemic.
The situation has left residents weary and worried for their safety — and for the wellbeing of those living in tents — after several violent incidents, including a killing last week of a person living on the beach. A homeless person was arrested in the case.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose deputies patrol unincorporated parts of the county, entered city turf with a homeless outreach team to announce a plan to get people into housing by July 4.
His lofty overture, which has moved some people off the boardwalk but is unlikely to meet his goal by this weekend, was met with resistance from much of LA's political establishment, particularly Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice.
Bonin, who criticized an approach that could lead to housing at the jail Villanueva runs if people don't leave, launched his own plan days later. That effort, which has moved 64 people indoors, is being rolled out in several phases into August and promises to eventually provide permanent housing.
Bonin was among councilmembers opposing the measure Thursday, saying the city doesn't have tens of thousands of beds needed for the homeless and criticizing the plan for not showing where sleeping and camping would be allowed.