Westminster Elementary School

An RV remains parked outside Westminster Elementary School (Westside Current)

WESTSIDE - Parents with kids headed back to school, many the first time since the pandemic, are applauding the efforts of Councilmember Joe Buscaino who's seeking to ban encampments around all Los Angeles public schools as part of the City's new sweeping anti-camping law.

"Hundreds of thousands of students are going back to school for the first time in 18-months," said Buscaino during a press conference Monday. "During the pandemic, encampments formed and grew around school campuses as they did in Venice Beach. We must address public safety issues - especially simple access to sidewalks."

A new anit-camping ordinance -- which goes into effect on Sept. 3 -- modifies the City's current anti-camping law in Municipal Code 41.18, to prohibit sitting, sleeping, lying, storing personal property or otherwise obstructing the public right of way in several areas of the City, including within two feet of any fire hydrant or fire plug; within five feet of any operational or utilizable entrance or exit; within 10 feet of a loading dock or driveway; in a manner that interferes with any activity for which the City has issued a permit or restricts accessible passage as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act; or anywhere within a street, including bike paths.

The ordinance also protects the public right of way within 500 feet of a "sensitive" facility, including schools, once the City Council passes a resolution to designate a specific area for enforcement, posts signage and gives notice of the date that the ordinance will be enforced.

"This is a fantastic step towards protecting the children in our communities from trauma, said Chie Lunn, a parent, educator, and member of the Venice Neighborhood Council. "As a parent and teacher, nothing is more important to me than making sure kids are safe. I hope all council members understand the gravity of this situation and continue to make decisions that will best serve the most vulnerable members of our society."

Last week a parent alerted Bonin's office to growing encampments outside Broadway Elementary School in Venice.  One mother said she told Bonin's staff that a person had been camping in the doorway of the elementary school-- who, she said, frequently uses drugs and leaves drug paraphernalia behind. She and other parents have also expresses concern over RVs and tents nearby. "We would all like to understand what it is that you're doing to keep our children safe."

The concerns are echoed by parents who have kids that live near Westminster Elementary School. An RV, that is [now] involved in a class-action lawsuit against the City, is parked outside the elementary school where school buses line up. "Our kids should not have to see this. What they are witnessing will forever impact them."

"Children can't vote for their own rights, can't make life choices for themselves, and who physically aren't yet able to be independent, should never have to be put in danger and pawns by the very adults who are supposed to make the rules to protect them, " added Joshua Saltzman, also an educator on the westside. 

"We have many sensitive areas in our city, and the most sensitive areas are those where our kids spend their days," said Busciano.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, spoke out against Buscaino's plan via Twitter after the news conference.

"There is a right way and a wrong way to address unsheltered homelessness in our city. (Councilman) Buscaino's approach is the wrong way," he said. "The right way would help people actually move from the streets to housing, instead of displacing them from one neighborhood to the other."

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles City Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee advanced a motion to approve recommendations for a Street Engagement Strategy to accompany a sweeping ordinance to restrict sleeping and homeless encampments in some regions of the City.

"The pilot Street Engagement Strategy aims to deploy dedicated resources (both personnel and housing) to the City's most complex unsheltered sites ... our strategy must be to scale up, not scatter! No quick fixes or grandstanding, (Councilman) Buscaino, just problem solving and hard work," Ridley-Thomas said in his Twitter post-Monday.

The City Council approved the anti-camping ordinance, with Councilmember Mike Bonin dissenting on July 28, and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti the next day.

Assistant City Administrative Officer Yolanda Chavez told committee members that the office recommends a concentrated engagement process be implemented before enforcing the ordinance for encampments in areas that require a resolution and posted signage, which includes within 500 feet of schools, daycare facilities, parks and libraries.

To start, the Street Engagement Strategy recommendations would serve as a pilot program at one site in each district until the CAO reports on the success of the pilot in February, and further action is taken to add engagement resources. If the City Council approves the pilot, enforcement of the ordinance -- in locations requested by resolution from council members -- would not occur outside of the location of the outreach pilot program in each district, Chavez said.

On Monday, parents told the Westside Current what Busciano is doing is not grandstanding instead; "he is standing up for our kids and their future."

"Buscaino seems to be the only council member who is standing up for our kids. Homelessness is becoming a huge business in this City. By keeping things broken, they [the City] keeps making money. It's awful for everyone involved--and right now, it's our children."

Buscaino also told residents on Monday he doesn't plan to stop at schools when it comes to standing up for Los Angeles children. 

" I am here fighting for you," said Busciano. "And I will not stop there. I am also looking at introducing other proposals that would also restrict camping at other sensitive use sites like libraries, beaches, and parks," the councilman added.  

We reached out to the Los Angeles Unified School District for comment and are awaiting a reply.

Information from City News Service was used for this report.