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L.A. councilman seeks to bar homeless encampments near more than 1,000 schools

A confrontation at Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino's press conference.
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, far right, abruptly ended a press conference Monday after one of his aides got into a brief scuffle with a group of protesters.
(David Zahniser/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino upped the ante in the debate over where and how to restrict homeless encampments, calling on his colleagues to prohibit tents from going up within 500 feet of any public school in the city.

Buscaino, who is running for mayor, said he wants the council to use its new anti-camping ordinance to make sidewalks around more than 1,000 campuses “no camping zones.”

The councilman announced his proposal outside Larchmont Charter School in Hollywood on Monday, the first day of school for hundreds of thousands of children in the Los Angeles Unified School District. But his event was swiftly cut short when one of his aides got into a brief scuffle with a group of protesters who had surrounded Buscaino, yelling and waving signs as the councilman attempted to deliver his remarks.

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VIDEO | 00:30
Disruption at L.A. Councilman Buscaino news conference

Demonstrators chant and a brief scuffle breaks out during a news conference Monday by L.A. City Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino.

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The incident began when Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc grabbed one of the protesters’ signs, which had come close to the councilman’s face. The protester, who identified herself only as Stevie, tried to stop him, yelling at him to get his hands off her.

Theo Henderson, host and creator of the podcast “We the Unhoused,” stepped in and pushed Kvartuc away from the protester, shoving him into the lectern.

“Branimir! Branimir!” Buscaino yelled.

The crowd spilled into the street, with protesters yelling at Kvartuc and demanding that police officers arrest him. Stevie, who showed up as part of the Services Not Sweeps Coalition, told officers that they should not be protecting Kvartuc.

“That man grabbed my sign down and then elbowed me,” she told The Times. “It’s all on video. And then the whole crew came, because we’re not going to let men assault women, on camera or off.”

Kvartuc, in a phone call, denied elbowing anyone. “I grabbed the stick to move it away from [Buscaino’s] face,” he said. “That is all that I was doing.”

It was the second Buscaino news conference on homelessness to end in disarray in recent months. In June, Buscaino was hustled out of a news conference on the Venice boardwalk after someone on the scene noticed that a homeless woman near him had a knife.

Buscaino gave Monday’s remarks near a stretch of Selma Avenue lined on both sides with tents, bicycle parts and other possessions. Protesters said they had gathered behind Buscaino to ensure that he would not provide television cameras the encampment as a backdrop.

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Amy Held, executive director of Larchmont Charter School, said she viewed the situation on L.A.'s streets as a humanitarian crisis. But she said she also has a responsibility to make sure her kids arrive at school safely.

“I just want to make sure that the streets, the sidewalks, around our campuses are unobstructed, so that our kids can get to and from school,” she said.

Homeless advocates denounced Buscaino’s proposal, saying it wrongly insinuated that people living on the streets are criminals who pose a threat to children and families. Henderson, in an interview a day earlier, called Buscaino’s proposal “evil, pure and simple.”

“What it ignores is that there are unhoused families that are going into these schools, families that love their kids just as much as the housed community,” he said.

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School board member Kelly Gonez also criticized Buscaino’s effort, calling it “incredibly disappointing.”

“Permanent housing is the solution to homelessness, and this action gets us no closer to solving the current humanitarian crisis,” she wrote on Twitter.

The report could help Councilman Mike Bonin quell an uproar in parts of his district, who had come out against the idea of homeless facilities at those locations.

Buscaino scheduled his news conference in a section of Hollywood represented by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. Dan Halden, an O’Farrell spokesman, said his boss had not been aware of Buscaino’s news conference until Buscaino issued his advisory.

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“Our team’s focus, both in this area of Hollywood and throughout the 13th District, will continue to be on outreaching to people experiencing homelessness and effectively connecting them to housing and resources,” he said.

Buscaino’s proposal is part of a lengthy tug of war at City Hall over how far, and how fast, to enforce the city’s anti-camping law.

Homeless advocates have accused city leaders of criminalizing poverty by setting up a new process that could cause people living on the streets to receive citations for camping in certain locations. But business groups and some neighborhood organizations have voiced support for new restrictions, saying the city needs to restore access to its public spaces.

The ordinance, which received a final vote last month, prohibits people from sitting, sleeping, lying or storing property on sidewalks that are within 500 feet of “sensitive uses,” such as parks, libraries, schools and day-care centers. But it also places limits on the city’s ability to enforce those restrictions.

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Homeless encampment in Hollywood.
Tents and other belongings line both sides of Selma Avenue near Larchmont Charter School.
(David Zahniser/Los Angeles Times)

Under the ordinance, enforcement cannot take place near schools and other public facilities unless the council has voted to give the go-ahead. Signs would need to be installed in a particular location and remain up for 14 days before enforcement could begin.

Enforcement also would be accompanied by the arrival of “street engagement” teams that would spend up to four months offering shelter and other services to those living outside in a targeted area, according to a city report issued last month.

Buscaino has already proposed that the ordinance be used to prohibit encampments around homeless shelters in his district, which stretches from Watts to San Pedro. But other council members have taken steps to limit enforcement even more.

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The council’s homelessness committee voted 3 to 1 on Thursday to recommend that outreach and enforcement around parks, schools and other sensitive areas be limited to 15 locations between September and February. Such a strategy would effectively give each of the council’s 15 members the ability to target one location during that time frame.

Council members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Nithya Raman and Kevin de León voted in favor of that strategy, which still needs approval from the full council.

In a rare extended interview on homelessness, Gov. Gavin Newsom applauded the removal of homeless camps from Echo Park Lake and Venice Beach in Los Angeles, staking out a position that reflects a change in the political dialogue about homelessness in California.

Ridley-Thomas argued in favor of the more limited approach, saying the city should start off with a pilot program and then assess next year whether its street engagement teams are working effectively to move people indoors.

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“The objective is to get this right, and then be able to build on our successes,” he said in a statement.

Buscaino cast the lone opposing vote, arguing that the process would be too slow and bureaucratic. The proposal for more limited enforcement next heads to the council’s energy and environment committee, which is headed by O’Farrell.


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