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LA revisits limits to sidewalk sleeping

Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles has long been locked in battles over where and how people can bed down on its streets and sidewalks -- a debate that has played out for decades in City Hall, in the courts and on avenues lined with squalid tents and bedrolls.

The city has been brushed back in court by homeless advocates, who argue that it is cruel and useless to punish people if they have nowhere else to sleep. Last year, those advocates hailed a federal ruling against a Boise, Idaho, law that prohibited sleeping on the street, saying the ruling cemented their earlier victories in Los Angeles and set a crucial precedent across the western United States.

Now L.A. politicians are weighing a new set of rules that could bar people from sitting or sleeping on streets and sidewalks near schools, parks and day care centers, and in a range of other prohibited areas -- an idea that has drawn fire from homeless advocates.

With tens of thousands of people bedding down on the streets -- far more than the city can house in new homeless housing or shelters built to date -- "You can't do this and expect that you'll have something that's enforceable," said attorney Carol Sobel.

The newly proposed restrictions, put forward by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, would replace a blanket ban on sidewalk sleeping that has been on the books for decades, but which L.A. had agreed to pull back on enforcing at night after being sued by skid row residents.

Sobel, one of the attorneys who represented homeless people in the Jones vs. City of Los Angeles case, called the proposed rules "completely unworkable" and argued that it was ridiculous for city officials to frame their newly proposed restrictions as an effort to comply with the Boise ruling.

 

The Boise ruling "does not require you to put in all these restrictions," Sobel said, arguing in a letter to council members that the proposed rules would make it almost impossible to sleep anywhere on skid row.

The disputed section of the Municipal Code -- 41.18(d) -- has been a rallying cry for neighborhood activists who argue that the Jones settlement has led to chaos and blight on city sidewalks. Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, said that the proposed rules failed to address the most important issue: homeless encampments in or abutting residential areas.

"What we're dealing with here in Venice -- and what is so difficult for residents -- is these encampments literally being in their frontyard," argued Ryavec, whose group has repeatedly sued the city over homelessness issues.

The proposed rules were unveiled at the council's homelessness committee meeting Wednesday at City Hall, where senior Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores said that prohibiting people from sleeping near schools, parks, newly established shelters and in other specified areas would be legally defensible, even after the federal decision that tossed out rules against sleeping on public property in Boise.

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