WESTSIDE - If only the residents of LA had an advocate like the District Attorney of Sacramento, Thien Ho. This past week, Ho filed a newsworthy lawsuit against the City of Sacramento, demanding that City leaders do their jobs, enforce existing laws, and keep the streets, sidewalks, parks, etc., clean and safe.
Wisely, the Sacramento DA also demanded that the City implement a daytime camping ban in which homeless people need to take down their tents and store their belongs neatly off the sidewalks from 6am-9pm (exactly what LA required pre-pandemic). Ho’s lawsuit also stipulates that City leaders create either designated campground sites or shelter space to immediately house 75% of the homeless in Sacramento. All this is in order to abate the ‘collapse of Sacramento’s public spaces into a chaos’, which Ho states has ‘eroded the everyday life’ of residents.
Prior to the 2020 pandemic, the City of Los Angeles had laws that required persons camping in public spaces (sidewalks, parks, beaches, etc.), to take down their tents from 6am to 9pm. While not perfect, this allowed for public sleeping, yet prevented the formation of massive sidewalk-obstructing, ADA violating encampments, and kept them from becoming sites for 24/7 drug dealing, ODs, trash hoarding, and bike chop shops. All of which represent well-documented dangers to both residents and encampment inhabitants. We absolutely know that allowing people to stay inside large tent encampments all day furthers addiction, crime, and other anti-social behaviors.
While it is not anyone’s intention to prevent people’s free choice in deciding how to live their lives, it is the job of city government to keep our public spaces, ie sidewalks, streets, parks, beaches, etc., clean & safe. Further, when one City allows large unregulated encampments to form, but is surrounded by hundreds of cities that properly and legally prevent this behavior – as allowed by the Boise case and other 9th circuit holdings – then the most troubled transients tend to migrate to the unregulated areas, where they are not required to respect other people’s rights. (In legal terms, this might even be thought of as a City creating an ‘attractive nuisance’).
It has been over three and a half years since the Los Angeles City Council suspended its regulation/enforcement of tent encampments. That action was taken specifically to accommodate the CDC Covid 19 recommendations that tents not be disturbed and people ‘shelter in place’ for the purpose of preventing the spread of a fatal disease for which no vaccine existed at the time. The Covid emergency is long over, and there have been vaccines available for years as well. Yet our City Council has inexplicably neglected to reinstate enforcement of the LAMC 56.11 tents-down law requiring encampment dwellers to break down their campsites between 6am and 9pm.
This dereliction of duty has directly resulted in the growth of lawless encampments in Los Angeles (rather than the decline one would expect to be tied to spending over a billion dollars a year on homelessness). None of our surrounding Cities have maintained such lawless conditions, which is why Beverly Hills doesn’t look like Skid Row, and West Hollywood doesn’t look like Venice Beach. It’s all a matter of leadership and being good stewards of public safety, and in that department the current City Leadership is letting us down and causing irreparable damage to our City and to individual lives.
Why hasn’t our City Council reinstated time, place and manner regulations on encampments, especially when it appears that they are increasingly inhabited by addicted and/or criminal drifters? Why hasn’t Mayor Bass told the City Council that she needs common sense laws reinstated for her “Inside Safe” plan to succeed, and further tell LAPD that they must enforce those laws. Why does LAHSA refuse to give us accurate, non-identifying statistical data about who exactly is living on our streets, including former places of residence, mental health, addiction, criminal records, etc.? Why doesn’t our City Attorney tell the City Council exactly what surrounding Cities are legally doing, so we are consistent with our neighbors, and not overburdened? Why are people in LA not being listened to as we attempt to hold elected officials accountable, so that we can stop this encampment crisis from continuing to erode our everyday lives, even as we hemorrhage taxpayer money on temporary ‘solutions ‘?
Clearly, LA needs strong leaders to emerge, to speak truth to power, to say that finally, ‘enough is enough’, and to ensure that all Angelenos can enjoy safe and clean public spaces. A first step is to demand that the laws we have are enforced, particularly laws requiring that tents be dismantled during the daytime.
(This article written by Julie Milligan was first published in WestsideCurrent.com.)