RV Parked outside Westminster Elementary School

RV Parked outside Westminster Elementary School

41.18 is a Los Angeles municipal code that specifies general locations (parks, libraries, etc.) where people may be legally banned from sitting, sleeping, lying, or otherwise obstructing public right of way. Obviously, it’s aimed at encampments, and that it exists at all speaks to a city with tragic problems. But it’s the city that’s been built and within that city, it serves a purpose, safety.

Up to now, 41.18 has been a sort of menu. It was up to each city council member to decide which of the given locations they would like to declare off limits to camping in their district. They could also choose none, as CD11 Councilman Mike Bonin did

I live in Bonin’s district across the street from the site of a small encampment. I’ve seen people out cold in front of my building and been relieved when they woke up screaming at unseen enemies. Police are regularly called to the site for knives and fistfights, The encampment’s across from a school. No little kid should be anywhere near it but under Bonin they are.

In recognition of the failure of a fully optional 41.18, the city voted on 8/2/2022 to amend it and create a non-optional ban on camping by schools and daycares,

Bonin, who has a school-age child, spoke at the hearing and assured people that he gets it but that the amendment is, “a distraction from where our focus needs to be”. Clearly, he doesn’t get it. Homelessness is a tragedy of epic proportions in LA and it deserves our focus, but those experiencing homelessness are not the only people in LA. There are also children, and they need to be able to attend school and daycare safely. 

When will the ban on camping by schools and daycares go into effect? How is it going to work? And, to quote Ghostbusters, “who ya gonna call”? 

Citing people for violation of a ban they don’t know exists is obviously wrong. People need to know and understand the ordinance, but this doesn’t need to take forever. A month will do it. Another month won’t help. Bonin will drag his heels on enforcing the ban like he has the ban on extended RV parking to the point of a total stall.

 So, education and structuring around the ordinance need to begin immediately.  The intention of the ban isn’t for people to camp at a school and then be given a week to remove themselves, their tent, and their possessions. That process of relocating (of course with assistance and options) should be happening now so that once the ban is in effect people can be asked to move immediately.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is back in session on August 15 and daycare is open. Signs need to start going up specifying: the law prohibiting camping by schools and daycares, that a specific location is a school or daycare, and how far the boundaries of that location extend. 

The ban prohibits camping within 500 feet of a school or daycare. People need to understand what 500 ft. is. Something like the arrows and silly images of the bottom of shoes that were used to identify 6 feet of distance for Covid safety could be used. 500 ft. is one and a half city blocks or (roughly) a football field and a half. Either of those could be drawn as a symbol.

In addition to signage, there needs to be education. CIRCLE, that somewhat nebulous homeless engagement team or another entity can post notices with an explanation of the law, and they can engage with unhoused people in the area around schools and in local encampments. It would make sense to educate parents and school employees as well.

There should be a number and email for parents, school employees, and neighbors to call to report camping by a school. It’s unclear whether people are supposed to contact a city agency, a hotline or the police. If it’s the police, there’s a good chance they’ll never reach them. And for the ban to have a chance, whoever's doing the enforcement (LAPD, Circle, or another entity) needs to report directly to a city agency, not a councilperson vehemently opposed to the ban.

There needs to be education, a specific starting date, an agency responsible for timely implementation, and a contact number. Without that there is no ordinance.