Garcetti says he didn’t change course on homelessness laws

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti says his spokesman did not check with him before saying he would sign a pair of controversial ordinances targeting homeless encampments.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday he didn’t reverse course by backing away from controversial homelessness laws his office had signaled he would approve, asserting instead that a member of his communications staff mistakenly told The Times he planned to sign the ordinances.

Garcetti said in a brief interview at City Hall that he had always had reservations about the tough new laws, which would give police officers greater power to sweep the streets of homeless encampments. But his spokesman, Jeff Millman, erroneously said he would sign the legislation, according to the mayor.

“Jeff told people without ever checking with me that, ‘Oh, he’s probably going to sign it,’” Garcetti said. “I never said that to staff, or internally.”

Millman did not dispute the mayor’s account of his miscommunication with the press. He said his previous statement that Garcetti would sign the ordinances “offered a preliminary view prior to (their) passage in council.”

The two ordinances -- one for parks and one for sidewalks -- would give the homeless 24 hours to move their possessions. After that, their belongings could be seized. Police could give violators a ticket or charge them with a misdemeanor.

Many advocates for the homeless oppose the policies, saying they criminalize homelessness and do little to move people off the streets.

Last week, as the City Council prepared for a final vote on the ordinances, Millman told The Times that Garcetti would sign them into law and work with council members to adopt amendments softening some parts of the new policies.

This week, Garcetti announced a different course. Resorting to a peculiarity of L.A.'s legislative procedures, he said he would not sign the ordinances but would let them become law without his formal approval. (The city charter dictates that council-approved ordinances pass into law if the mayor doesn’t veto them, even if he doesn’t append his signature.)

Garcetti also said he would order the LAPD not to enforce the new ordinances until amendments are added that protect from seizure items such as prescription medications and identification cards.

“Those are important to me, that it be humane,” the mayor said. “We need to have an ordinance in place, but I wanted it to have that in it. And the one that went through didn’t have that, so I’m not signing it.”