Protestors filled City Hall today and tried to prevent a vote that would ban homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and daycare centers.
Protestors heckled councilmembers, snapped their fingers and held signs that read, “Repeal 41.18.”
The ordinance passed today is an amendment to the city’s law that regulates the location of homeless encampments. Municipal Code 41.18 prohibits sitting, sleeping, lying or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the city – but only if each specific location is designated by the council for enforcement.
Last month, the council voted 10-1 in favor of the amendment to outright ban encampments next to schools. But since that initial vote was not unanimous, Councilman Mike Bonin was the sole no, a second vote had to be taken Tuesday for the ordinance to pass.
Bonin argued in City Hall today that the ordinance is based on a false premise that unhoused people are refusing to go indoors. He called the ordinance a “distraction from where our focus needs to be,” draining time and energy away from tangible steps to end homelessness. Bonin received a standing ovation from protestors.
When Councilman Joe Buscaino, who first proposed the idea of an encampment ban near schools last year, rose to speak, members of the audience started chanting, “Shut it down!”
The disruption prevented Buscaino from speaking. Council President Nury Martinez then announced a 15-minute recess that ended up lasting around an hour, while more than 50 people remained in the chambers, chanting and making speeches accusing the council of criminalizing homelessness.
After the recess, members council voted 11-3 in favor of the measure, with Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Nithya Raman and Marqueece Harris-Dawson dissenting.
Martinez called the disruption “incredibly disturbing.”
“What we witnessed here this morning unfortunately was really an attempt to try and keep us from taking a vote,” Martinez said. “I think people were intent this morning to shut this place down and keep us from doing the very job that we were all elected to do.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell pushed back against the protestor’s narrative. “Everyone here is compassionate, deeply caring of people who are the most vulnerable among us,” he said. “I’m not going to buy into this rhetoric that we’re monsters, that we’re murderers or anything like that. It’ s all nonsense. I’m just not going to accept that false narrative any longer. We should never accept it at all.”
The amendment, a blanket ban on encampments within 500 feet of all schools and day care sites, had been given tentative approval July 1 by the City Council. It had been approved previously by the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee.
The school issue was revived this year, in part because of Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said teachers, principals and parents have expressed concerns about homeless encampments near campuses.
“`I’ve seen elementary schools with conditions that none of us as parents would find acceptable for children. Individuals with mental illness, some of them absolutely unclothed, shouting profanities in the listening ear of children,” Carvalho told the Council.
People who violate the ordinance face an infraction or citation, but “a person who willfully resists, delays or obstructs a city employee from enforcing this section or who willfully refuses to comply after being requested to do so by an authorized city employee” can face higher fines and a misdemeanor charge, according to the ordinance.
(Editor’s note: Readers may remember that 41.18 also bans homeless in public parks and public libraries and was passed a year ago. It went into effect in September —but unless an individual Councilmember asks for enforcement, it does not take place.)
This story was done in conjunction with the Westside Current and City News Service.