The Venice Neighborhood Council held a board meeting Tuesday night that stretched for nearly 4 1/2 hours and featured a spirited debate on a motion concerning police enforcement of laws involving the homeless.
The board discussed the matter for about 90 minutes and heard from numerous speakers opposed to the motion that called for the Los Angeles Police Department to consistently enforce laws against obstructing public streets, camping overnight on sidewalks and leaving personal property on public property.
The council's board voted against the motion 15-0 with four abstentions. A substitute motion was considered by the board and it was rejected with five in favor, 12 against and two abstentions.
Capt. Brian Johnson, the commanding officer the LAPD's Pacific Division patrol, addressed the board during public comments and said the LAPD would remain neutral on the motion.
"Our obligation is to constitutionally enforce all laws," Johnson said.
Twenty-seven people signed up to comment on the motion, with three in favor and 24 against.
The motion came out of the council's Public Safety Committee and was introduced by Mark Ryavec, head of the Venice Stakeholders Association. Ryavec said the motion was drafted after a series of conversations with Capt. Jon Peters of the Pacific Division, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and beat officers in Venice.
It called for the LAPD when enforcing the laws to provide referrals to anyone in need of services or housing. It included enforcement of municipal code 41.18(d) that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks, which the LAPD is temporarily restrained from enforcing due to the city's settlement in the Jones v. City of Los Angeles case. It also included municipal code 56.11 that bans leaving personal property on sidewalks, though the City Attorney has advised the LAPD to observe a preliminary injunction issued in the Lavan v. City of Los Angeles case.
Ryavec and board member Ira Koslow crafted the substitute motion over the weekend to include language about legal constraints for enforcing municipal codes. The original motion was approved 3-2 in May by the Public Safety Committee.
Board president Linda Lucks said she opposed the motion because it was micromanaging the police department.
Steve Clare, executive director of the nonprofit Venice Community Housing Corporation, urged the board to reject the motion.
"This is a values question, this is not a legal question," Clare told the board. He said the motion would essentially make it illegal for people who are homeless to live in public spaces.
"Is that what you value? Is that what you want? Does it articulate the values of our community?," Clare asked.
He said the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty a few years ago ranked Los Angeles as the meanest big city in the country due to laws and practices that criminalize being homeless.
"If you vote for this, you would be unfortunately the meanest neighborhood in the meanest big city," Clare said to applause from the crowd.
(Editor's Note: Updated to add that the board also rejected a substitute motion and background.)