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Los Angeles’ convoluted anti-camping ordinance

If you wanted to draft a city ordinance that would lead to the break up of a city, you probably couldn’t do much better than the anti-camping ordinance just signed into law by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The newly amended ordinance is Los Angeles Municipal Code section 41.18, titled, “Sitting, Lying, or Sleeping or Storing, Using, Maintaining, or Placing Personal Property in the Public Right-of-Way.” The title is missing any reference to what the ordinance does about any of these things, and that’s not an oversight. Vagueness is the city’s policy.

“No person shall obstruct a street, sidewalk, or other public right-of-way,” the ordinance begins, “by sitting, lying, or sleeping, or by storing, using, maintaining or placing personal property, in a manner that impedes passage, as provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act … .”

Other than the ADA provision, the restriction on sitting, lying, etc., only applies within 10 feet of a driveway or loading dock, within five feet of a building entrance, within two feet of a fire hydrant, in any place that “unreasonably interferes” with an activity for which the city has issued a permit, or on a street or bike lane.

Specific sites designated as “sensitive use,” including schools, day care centers, parks and libraries, may have signage posted to prohibit sitting, lying, etc., within a specified distance.

But just about everywhere else, sitting, lying, etc., will be allowed unless the City Council passes a resolution prohibiting it in that specific area.

This is a formula for bitter fights between different areas of the city as council members are forced to make trade-offs with their colleagues over where encampments will be allowed and where they’ll be banned.

This doesn’t happen with other types of laws. Imagine complaining to your City Council representative about armed robberies in your neighborhood and being told that the other council members won’t vote for the law to be enforced in your part of the city.

Before a homeless encampment in your neighborhood will be banned, the City Council will have to determine, “in a designating resolution and based on specific documentation,” that the encampment “poses a particular and ongoing threat to public health or safety.”

Be prepared to document incidents of “death or serious bodily injury,” “repeated serious or violent crimes” (repeated how many times?), or “the occurrence of fires that resulted in a fire department response to the location.”

Once these incidents have been documented, the city council will consider a resolution to ban that particular encampment. If the resolution is approved, the city will post signs for 14 days to give notice of the date at which the encampment will no longer be allowed at the location. When the date arrives, the city will attempt to enforce the law. How, it doesn’t say.

You’re probably wondering, what happens if the people in the encampment pick up and move two blocks down?

Apparently the whole process has to be repeated.

This isn’t an anti-camping ordinance. It’s an official authorization to maintain homeless encampments everywhere except next to driveways, building entrances, fire hydrants, schools, daycares, parks and libraries.

A UCLA study estimated that 40% of the city of Los Angeles will be off-limits to encampments, which means the homeless population will become more concentrated in the remaining 60%. This is bound to cause tension in many neighborhoods, especially if some City Council members are more aggressive about proposing resolutions to ban encampments while others prefer to leave the encampments alone.

The new ordinance is setting up a war between the areas of the city, with a majority vote on the council needed before any neighborhood can have basic health and safety laws enforced in order to prevent (instead of document) death, violence and fires.

Secession from the city of Los Angeles requires a “yes” vote from a majority of voters in the area attempting to secede and from the voters in the rest of the city. It probably can’t happen unless enough communities choose to secede at the same time, and each seceding area votes for every other secession. If city residents want genuinely local government, and if people get angry enough, there could be a political earthquake that fractures Los Angeles into pieces.

Write Susan Shelley: and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.


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