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Nithya Raman Blasts the City’s New Homeless Encampment Regulations - She May Get the Last Laugh

DEEGAN ON LA-This is Number 5 in a series. Councilmember Nithya Raman (CD4) sat silently in the council chamber on July 28, as her colleagues spoke for and against a motion to regulate homeless encampments.

When the motion was first put up for a vote four weeks ago, Raman derailed it with a “no” vote, forcing it into a second vote. 

Ahead of the second vote, Raman tweeted that the proposed ordinance was “harmful and illusory,” but provided no corollary saying why, or what she would do that was better.

Raman had the span of the thirty-day council recess between the two votes to develop her own plans, and answer that question, but has kept silent. The gift of a thirty-day council recess that could have been spent at the drawing board was squandered. 

The re-vote on the homeless encampment motion passed by a 13-2 margin, with Raman and Mike Bonin (CD11) as the dissenters. 

Adding complexity to the chronically chaotic city approach to what the City Administrative Officer (CAO) Matt Szabo calls “PEH” (people experiencing homelessness) was the announcement by the CAO, concurrent with the July 28 council vote, that his staff had just completed a draft of a Homeless Engagement Strategy that had been requested by the council. 

A preview of the strategy shows a bureaucratic process attempting to win the uphill struggle to arrive at some relief for a so-far insoluble problem. 

What the CAO termed as “the beginning of a framework” was immediately referred to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee that is scheduled to take up the plan at their August meeting. 

The Mayor and the City Council cannot admit defeat; the public would not accept it. Half of the city council will face voters in 2022; they have to keep acting like they know what they’re doing. The hollowness is obvious. The Mayor is leaving the country, and the several councilmembers (all odd-numbered districts) that are up for reelection next year are desperate for success. 

The CAO’s plan enters the mix -- like so many other plans, and billions of dollars in cash over so many years which have promised to provide a “PEH” solution. The homeless street population has become a socially-distancing acronym at City Hall, like beans that are to be counted by administrators. 

A taste of the proposed process includes these “strategy” highlights: 

  • It proposes a targeted outreach approach, which provides people experiencing homelessness (PEH) with a suitable offer of shelter, interim, or permanent housing. 
  • These procedures will be implemented for concentrated engagements with 10-15 tents, or 30 people or more, or the site is a public health and safety hazard. 
  • For the implementation of the recently amended Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) Section 41.18, c.1-4 and d, which specifies designated uses, if homeless encampments prevent these designations. 
  • This proposed Strategy would not apply if a proposed designated use site is not encamped. 
  • The 17 City-funded Homeless Engagement Teams (HETs) will be used for this effort. 
  • A property designated as a "sensitive use" must be a school, day care center, public park, or public library (up to a maximum of 500 feet). 
  • Enforcement may not occur until the City Council has taken action by resolution to designate a specified area or areas for enforcement. 
  • At least 14 calendar days must have passed since the City posted signage at the designated area(s) set forth in the resolution. 
  • Depending on the size of an encampment, an engagement could take up to four (4) months. 
  • To start the process, a Councilmember introduces a motion (if concentrated engagement and/or LAMC Section 41.18, c. 1-4 and d. implementation for encamped sites). 
  • An encampment cannot be cleared if the PEH living at the site are not offered a suitable housing and services resources. 
  • The City Council determines where to act in a designating resolution. 

So, to sum this up, a homeless encampment can be, or not be, removed at the discretion of the district’s councilperson. Removing a single encampment could take months. The exceptions are the already prohibited encampment sites (near driveways, fire hydrants and doorways) and the “sensitive areas.” 

To keep an encampment in place, a councilperson can encourage campers to limit their encampment size to less than ten tents, and house less than 30 people, thus skirting the strategy guidelines all together. 

The criminalization approach to homelessness has been replaced with kid gloves worn by 15 council members, each with their own personal agenda for how they want to deal with the homeless in their district. Some will take a gloves-off approach, while others may be more lenient. 

No wonder Nithya Raman is silent, but probably smiling. 

Read other articles in this series: 

Part 1“Watching Nithya Raman - Part 1” posted on CityWatch on June 6, 2021. 

Part 2 - “Nithya Raman’s Hollywood Homeless Headache,” posted on CityWatch on June 28, 2021. 

Part 3“Nithya Raman Puts Community Second in Her Homeless Housing Plans,” posted on CityWatch on July 1, 2021. 

Part 4 – “Nithya Raman Presses Pause on New Homeless Rules,” posted on CityWatch on July 12, 2021.

Coming soon: Part 6, Raman’s role in the developer threats to neighborhoods that have homeowners telling her, “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY). Part 7 - A Public Bank for Los Angeles. Additional topics: TBD.  

This multi-part CityWatch series will continue. Readers in the CD4 communities of Los Feliz, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Greater Hancock Park and Toluca Lake are welcome to send tips and comments to the writer at [email protected]. Tips and comments from readers citywide are also welcome. Requests for anonymity will be respected as long as the writer is privately identified to CityWatch.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.