A push to clear parks

L.A. aims to ease the re­moval of home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings with new or­di­nance.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Gale Hol­land gale.hol­land@la­times.com Twit­ter: @gehol­land

The city of Los An­ge­les has moved closer to mak­ing it eas­ier to re­move home­less peo­ple’s be­long­ings from public parks, over op­po­si­tion from City Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo, who said it was a failed strat­egy.

“We have pur­sued a strat­egy that does not work,” Cedillo told the arts, parks, health, aging and river com­mit­tee, which voted 4 to 1 Mon­day to ap­prove the new or­di­nance. “The overem­pha­sis on polic­ing is a fet­ter.”

In 2012, a fed­eral ap­peals court ruled the city could seize and de­stroy tran­sients’ pos­ses­sions only if they posed an im­me­di­ate threat to public health or were ev­i­dence of a crime. The court also re­quired the city to give own­ers a chance to re­claim their be­long­ings be­fore they were de­stroyed.

Faced with an 85% rise in en­camp­ments in the last two years, the city has been look­ing for ways to clean up skid row and other con­cen­tra­tions of home­less peo­ple with­out run­ning afoul of the courts.

The new or­di­nance would shorten from three days to 24 hours the city’s ad­vance no­tice of a con­fis­ca­tion from parks, in­clud­ing Venice Beach. It would also clar­ify that bulky items — in­clud­ing mat­tresses, chairs or other fur­ni­ture — can be sub­ject to im­me­di­ate re­moval. It also would bar putting up tents on park prop­erty, although shade struc­tures, pic­nic ta­bles and chairs would be ex­empt.

Vi­o­la­tions could be charged as an in­frac­tion or mis­de­meanor.

A com­pan­ion pro­posal to make it eas­ier to move home­less peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions off side­walks is mak­ing its way through the City Coun­cil’s com­mit­tee process. Un­der a sep­a­rate court set­tle­ment, home­less peo­ple are al­lowed to sleep on city streets overnight, but are sup­posed to carry or store their tents and bedrolls dur­ing day­light hours.

City Coun­cil­man Joe Bus­caino said the parks or­di­nance struck the “proper bal­ance” be­tween home­less peo­ple’s con­sti­tu­tional rights and the public’s right to clean and safe parks.

“We have seen th­ese public spa­ces com­pletely thrashed ... by tents and tarps that come with, un­for­tu­nately, fe­ces and urine,” Bus­caino said.

Ad­vo­cates ac­cused the city of crim­i­nal­iz­ing home­less­ness.

“The peo­ple can­not help this; they have nowhere else to put their pos­ses­sions,” said Deb­o­rah LaShever, a Venice res­i­dent and ac­tivist.

Kevin Re­gan, as­sis­tant gen­eral manager of the Depart­ment of Recre­ation and Parks, said the city would con­tinue to store home­less peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions at a skid row ware­house for 90 days.

Sev­eral speak­ers said, how­ever, that the stor­age build­ing is at ca­pac­ity, and that home­less peo­ple don’t un­der­stand where their be­long­ings are or how to re­cover them.

“We have a no­ti­fi­ca­tion prob­lem,” said Gen­eral Jeff Page, a skid row ac­tivist. “This is about seizure.”

“It’s un­fair for [home­less peo­ple from] San Pe­dro to have to come to L.A. It’s un­fair for the San Fer­nando Val­ley to come to L.A.,” Cedillo said. “It’s de­signed that way.”

Re­gan said two park rangers are as­signed full time to han­dle com­plaints about home­less peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions on park land, which have in­cluded re­ports of nee­dles in sand­boxes and of home­less peo­ple re­fus­ing to take tents down from a Lit­tle League field. He also said em­ploy­ees team with out­reach work­ers to of­fer ser­vices to home­less peo­ple.

“The bot­tom line is this is an ef­fort to keep the parks clean and ac­ces­si­ble for the public,” Re­gan said. City em­ploy­ees, he added, “deal with this in a very com­pas­sion­ate way.”

“This gives us a tool for get­ting them out faster,” said Va­lerie Flores, se­nior as­sis­tant city at­tor­ney.

Cedillo said the city doesn’t need a new or­di­nance to re­move en­camp­ments on ball­fields and nee­dles from play­grounds.

“I sup­port the bro­ken­win­dow the­ory,” said Cedillo, re­fer­ring to a skid row cleanup strat­egy in­tro­duced by for­mer Po­lice Chief Wil­liam J. Brat­ton that cracked down on mi­nor in­frac­tions by home­less peo­ple. “But it doesn’t work if there isn’t a house.”

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

FACED WITH an 85% rise in home­less en­camp­ments in the last two years, L.A. has been look­ing for ways to clean up skid row and other con­cen­tra­tions of home­less peo­ple such as at MacArthur Park, above.

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