The Redondo Beach City Council this week will weigh whether to empower the city manager to create new, enforceable rules on what people can do in the city’s public libraries, a move largely spurred by complaints that library officials have been unable to kick out those who are homeless who disrupt other patrons — those homeless advocates say this initiative addresses the wrong problem.
“Individuals who cannot or do not regulate their own conduct, persistently annoy other patrons or disrupt the quiet enjoyment of these public facilities,” the draft ordinance reads, “make it impossible for the facilities to serve their intended purposes.”
It’s been difficult for library staff to get compliance from some patrons because the facility rules, which have historically been set by the Library Commission, are not enforceable, according to a staff report. Under Redondo’s municipal code, only the City Council and city manager can establish enforceable rules.
The ordinance, if it passes on Tuesday, Jan. 4, would direct City Manager Mike Witzansky to create a rulebook regulating disruptive behavior, noise, offensive odors, health and sanitation hazards and bringing possessions into libraries. The rules, however, may not unreasonably or unfairly restrict anyone’s access to libraries and other public meeting facilities.
Redondo Beach in 2019 started a pilot program to beef up the city’s response to the impact of homelessness on residents and the community, according to a staff report. As part of that, city officials heard from residents that inappropriate and disruptive behaviors in libraries were the biggest issues, including aggressive behavior toward staff and other patrons, extreme body odor, blocking aisles with personal belongings and blocking stairwells to charge cell phones, per the staff report.
The rules would have to be posted prominently, the staff report said. Violators would get two warnings before they could be told to leave a facility and if they still refuse to leave, they could be guilty of a misdemeanor, arrested and jailed for up to six months and/or fined up to $1,000.
Violators could also have their library visitation and book-borrowing privileges revoked for up to a year
Anyone who has overdue library fines that are more than $10 or fails to return borrowed library materials in a timely manner can also get their borrowing privileges suspended until the fines are brought to $10 or below, according to the draft ordinance.
Folks, however, would be able to appeal their visitation and borrowing suspensions.
The people who cause the problems outlined in the ordinance, however, are likely ones who could benefit from a long-term city partnership with a mental health service provider, said Andrew Nishimoto, executive director of Family Promise of the South Bay.
Family Promise helps homeless families achieve housing stability by providing short-term shelter, meals, case management and hospitality.
A public library
“does need to be a safe place for individuals and families — both housed and unhoused — to go,”
Nishimoto said. “If there are legitimate safety concerts due to (certain) people being present, cities should take the lead in contacting mental health providers, homeless advocates and other partners that can help create solutions in a safe manner for all involved.
“Many of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness use libraries for more than a warm place to stay,” he added, “but also to access resources so they can get back up on their feet, use educational opportunities online and through books, as well as communicate with their mental health providers and physicians.”
While many unhoused folks may have access to cell phones, Nishimoto said, they may still need the internet libraries provide in order to reach government agencies to get the documents they need to move into more stable living situations.
Any policy that could hinder the ability for them to do that, Nishimoto said, is a hindrance to the well being of the overall community.