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Smart Policing vs. Dumb Ordinances


Buscaino wins the anti-camping ordinance, but it’s still not a solution

By a 13-2 vote on July 28, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that promises to prevent sidewalk camping in many areas. Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilwoman Nithya Raman were the only two who voted against the measure. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance the next day.

I do not know a single Los Angeles Police Department officer, nor anyone else in law enforcement, with the exception of 15th Council District representative Buscaino (a LAPD reserve officer), who relishes the job of policing the homeless. In fact, if you speak with any of the LAPD leadership, they, without exception, understand that they could provide more resources to other crimes if they weren’t playing social worker to the city’s growing unsheltered population. They all understand that we cannot “arrest our way out of the homeless crisis.”

However, the press release from Buscaino’s office reads:

This week Council returned from summer recess where they continued to address the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. ‘This week’s action to limit camping in sensitive areas was a good step in the right direction, but I still don’t think this ordinance is enough. We must still pass a law that says you cannot camp on the sidewalk if you have been offered housing,’ said Councilmember Buscaino.

This narrative of his was broadcast citywide a few weeks ago when he showed up at the Venice Boardwalk to announce his candidacy to become the next mayor of Los Angeles while pointing out the “encampment issue” in Councilman Mike Bonin’s district. This campaign stunt was only made more poignant when the encampment along Beacon Street in Buscaino’s own district, which has languished for years, was suddenly mostly cleaned up. As if by magic the very day that he kicks off his campaign the streets surrounding the U.S. Post Office in San Pedro were clear and Joe is being interviewed by Fox News walking down the sidewalk complaining about the rest of the city.

The problem with “outlawing” encampments is this — on any given night in LA County, there are some 66,436 homeless people on our street. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Authority the shelter capacity on any given night was 24,616 beds. There still aren’t even half enough beds for all these people, even if they wanted them. The other underlying problem is that in the gold rush to build more housing the city has started a gentrification push for upscale units renting for more than $2,000 each in the more affordable areas of the city without the mandated 15% low income units.

In the era of escalating real estate prices, which LA County Assessor Jeffery Prang noted in his recent report, property prices on average have risen over 21% in the year of the pandemic. Now along comes Joe with his anti-camping ordinance that will force the unhoused to accept shelter that does not exist or to be cited with a ticket for which they probably can’t pay. The consequence is that the next time they are stopped for “illegal” camping, they will be hit with an outstanding bench warrant, then taken to jail. This is not what we want our police force to do.

Well, I suppose Joe deserves a pat on the back or “atta boy” Joe for getting our unsheltered neighbors into a bed for a few days. It will just come at the cost of their possessions, including at times their ID’s, social security cards and other critical documents. This, while being released into the general population to start all over again. 

This rather Sisyphean exercise which these desperately poor souls will be forced into by our dear councilman prefaces now they will be given multiple opportunities to accept shelter and assistance before this ordinance is enforced on them. Many would not call this compassionate. Instead, it sounds a lot like what is coming out of the Los Angeles GOP in their campaign to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall.

Just the other day, the LA Republican Party released a statement that read in part:

California has a worsening homeless crisis with no end in sight. California’s elected officials continue to put band-aids on the problem, while incentivizing homeless people from other states to come here and take advantage of the sunny weather and government handouts, with no accountability for the health crisis homeless encampments have created. Moreover, our citizens do not feel safe being out in their own neighborhoods, or at local stores because of fear of attack by some of these unstable homeless people. As of 2021, about 568,000 people in the United States are experiencing homelessness, with 151,000 in California, 66,436 in Los Angeles County, and 41,290 in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Authority homelessness count. Los Angeles has the most unsheltered homeless people out of any major US city. We are looking more like a third world country rather than a community of which we can be proud.

So as you can see, they, like Buscaino, has a handle (and some misconceptions) on who the homeless actually are (70% of all our unsheltered neighbors come from the areas in which they are now homeless). And the LA GOP, like our councilman, doesn’t really offer up any solutions. Not more public housing, not a substantial increase in low income housing, not an end to evictions, but yes, this is beginning to look like a third world country. But this is more because of four decades of neo-conservative austerity spending, tax breaks for the wealthy and a failure to invest in domestic job growth than the failure of local and state governments to invest in affordable housing. We’ve exported our middle class jobs and now we are paying for it, thank you, President Ronald Reagan.

James Preston Allen, founding publisher of the Los Angeles Harbor Areas Leading Independent Newspaper 1979- to present, is a journalist, visionary, artist and activist.