“What is a sweep to me may not be the same definition of what is a sweep to many in the audience,” Mayor Albert Vera, Jr. stated. It was a remark that highlighted the confusion of the Culver City Council meeting on an “anti-camping ordinance.” The City sent a press release out on Dec. 22, 2022 to clarify, but issues remain. Did the council call for the current ordinance to be enforced, or for ‘safe camping’ sites to be available before removing people from the already legally prohibited places where tents are pitched? Will there be actions to remove the unhoused, or will the city wait until facilities are available?
The abrupt decision to add a City Council meeting on Dec. 21 after the end of the calendar to discuss an anti-camping ordinance brought out a huge crowd, and drew in residents of every perspective. The meeting ended with direction to the staff to return with an ordinance modeled on the City of Santa Monica’s anti-camping law.
The council was led by Mayor Albert Vera, and included Council member Goran Eriksson, and newly seated members Dan O’Brien and Freddy Puza. Vice Mayor Yasmine Imani McMorrin was unavailable due to holiday travel plans that had been finalized before the meeting was scheduled.
Without even a notification to the Advisory Committee on Housing and Homelessness, the decision to begin work on an anti-camping ordinance seemed to be a sign of a council moving independently of the city’s legal infrastructure.
The need to address the homeless problem was put into the frame of ‘anti-camping’ as the program that could be put into place quickly. But calling it an anti-camping ordinance gave those in opposition a clear lane to object.
The tone from the dais, in both opening and closing statements, was one of almost constant contradiction. With Mayor Vera, and council members Eriksson and O’Brien declaring that the anti-camping ordinance was not a ‘sweep,’ they discussed a number of supportive solutions that had been set out by the previous council but not yet implemented – a safe parking zone, a safe camping zone – but did not bring back for review any of the extensive work that had been done on those programs.
Vera, O’Brien and Eriksson all spoke about compassion, but then pivoted into “enforce the ordinance” without differentiating if they favored the ordinance currently in place, or the one they were requesting staff to write. Council member Puza was consistent through out the discussion, saying he would “not support an anti-camping ordinance,” and highlighted the multiple programs that the previous council had created, including the Project Homekey hotels and the mobile crisis intervention unit; both of which are not yet fully operational.
Director of Housing and Human Services Tevis Barnes offered, in the staff presentation “I think it’s important that we share with you what our homeless population looks like.” She noted the encampments under the 405 Freeway at Venice Blvd. (approx. 20 people) The Senior Center (approx. 6 people) Veterans Park (approx. 3 people) along Ballona Creek (approx. 6 people) Cougar Park – the corner of Slauson and Hannum near the Marina Freeway – (approx. 4 people.) “These are people who are living in makeshifts shelters.”
Arames White-Shearin, Assistant to the City Manager on Homelessness explained that Tuesdays were the day that the city visited these sites for trash removal, and since July of 2022 the city has conducted 25 trash removal days. “There is currently a five step process that begins with notification, services offered from St. Joseph Center, and a determination of American Disability Act compliance or violation.” If there is a violation of the ADA (such a blocking the sidewalk) there is then a notification posted 72 hours before there is a removal of items. Items can be stored for 90 days at a city facility, with an extended grace periods if circumstances require.
The city attorney’s office highlighted an anti-camping ordinance already on the books that includes “any area where public buildings or structures are located.”
Almost a hundred people spoke to the meeting from the podium or from the Webex portal, with 89 signed in at the beginning of the comments for Item A-1.
The speakers covered every possible perspective of the issue; homeowners and property managers who have pushed the city for years to do something about the challenge of unpredictable and mentally ill people among the unhoused, pro-housing activists who have also pushed the city for years to create more housing to prevent people having to live in tents. There were also a number of persons experiencing homeless, both at the meeting and on the call, who were candid about the economic and bureaucratic challenges of trying to get a roof over their heads.
Ulysses Smith said “On the subject of unhoused residents, you are looking at one. The mental health issues need to be addressed, and among the unhoused this is a challenge for us as well, for our own safety. We need temporary housing, considering it’s the dead of winter. It’s hard to get up for work every day when you have borderline hypothermia.”
Jeffrey Trupp, on the call, said they were an SSI recipient, severely disabled, and had been “promised hotel placement in November, now I am told February. Only 3% of the population is homeless, and 85% of us want jobs, but don’t get in because of discrimination. Even though 13% of the general population is Black, 40% of the unhoused are. This has everything to do with privilege. Don’t punish people for being poor.”
“I’ve heard so many people here tonight say, ‘I’m compassionate, but..’ saying you are compassionate doesn’t mean anything.” Maggie Clarke spoke from the podium, “[An anti-camping ordinance] is costly, it’s probably un-constitutional, it’s failed in city after city… Compassionate people act in compassionate ways.”
The city’s press release noted that “According to the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, an estimated 350 people experience homelessness in the community.” This a huge difference from the approximately 40 people counted as living in tents on public property.
The council concluded by directing staff to come back with an ordinance modeled on the current law in the City of Santa Monica: that ordinance has been updated and changed by Santa Monica several times since its initial adoption. The model legislation also supports designated camping areas in Santa Monica.
There is still the question of what the city’s policy will be towards the unhoused as it awaits the new law.
Consideration of the draft Ordinance is tentatively scheduled for January 23, 2023.