LAWNDALE — The City Council voted 3 to 2 this week to repeal a controversial ordinance requiring a special license review for soup kitchens.
The repeal, which requires a second council vote March 17, came after supporters of the House of Yahweh, a Lawndale soup kitchen, gathered 953 signatures to force a referendum to overturn the ordinance. Both supporters and opponents of the House of Yahweh claim they would win a referendum.
City Atty. David Aleshire said the repeal also prevents the council from reconsidering the ordinance for a year.
The House of Yahweh, one of two soup kitchens in the South Bay, has fed increasing numbers of the homeless in its three-year history and now feeds about 75 a day. It has generated bitter complaints from neighboring residents and businesses about the presence and behavior of the homeless, many of them from surrounding communities, hanging around the area near City Hall. Some report that the homeless who eat at the House of Yahweh have soiled public places with bodily wastes. Supporters acknowledged that had occurred but they say the soup kitchen provides a needed social service and restrooms are available when the soup kitchen is open.
In an effort to reach compromise solutions, the council scheduled a meeting for April 30 to discuss the House of Yahweh and the problems of the homeless, and requested that representatives of the soup kitchen, the city Planning Commission and other interested groups attend.
But the repeal has failed to calm the furor, spurring talk of petitions to recall two council members who switched votes and also a movement by soup kitchen opponents to place on the ballot a question asking whether voters want to reverse the repeal, according to city officials and the president of the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce.
"Anything could happen," said City Clerk Marsha Schutte.
Voting for the repeal were council members Terry Birdsall, who voted against the ordinance Feb. 3, and Dan McKenzie and Harold E. Hofmann, who originally voted for the ordinance.
McKenzie, who voiced second thoughts at the Feb. 18 meeting, said Monday, "The City Council just better face up to (the problem of the homeless) and do something about it."
Hofmann said in an interview after the repeal vote that he had changed his mind about the ordinance after realizing that it was inconsistent for him to send money through his church to feed the homeless and hungry in Mexico, Ethiopia and Peru while taking a hard-hearted stance against them in his hometown. He added that he agreed with House of Yahweh supporters that the proposed review process probably would have been used to attempt to shut down the soup kitchen.
Mayor Sarann Kruse and Councilman James Ramsey, both mayoral candidates, voted for the ordinance originally and on Monday voted against its repeal, arguing that, with a referendum petition pending, the measure should be put before the electorate.
Kruse said Tuesday that she had received about a dozen calls from people angry at the council decision, with several saying they wanted to recall the two council members who switched votes. She added that she had been getting "letters of fright" for months from residents upset about homeless loiterers near the soup kitchen.
"I was speechless," Laura Calderwood, president of the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce, whose members have been outspoken critics of the House of Yahweh, said Tuesday.
"What appalled me the most is they took (away) the right of the people to voice their opinion about this. I couldn't even sleep I was so upset over this." Calderwood said she is "absolutely" convinced that the ordinance would have survived if put to a vote.
Happy With Decision
But Sarah Bertels, a House of Yahweh board member, said she was glad that the council had reversed itself. Carl Redmond, an unemployed man who eats regularly at the House of Yahweh and sleeps in a non-operative car on the median of Hawthorne Boulevard, attended the council meeting and said afterward that discussions, rather than a review panel, were more likely to lead to solutions. "I think it is good that they work it out," he said.
The ordinance approved by the council on Feb. 3 amended a part of the city code to include soup kitchens and employment agencies among the businesses that are required to obtain special licenses. They also must undergo a hearing before a five-member board.
The American Labor Core, an employment agency for day labor next door to the House of Yahweh, also draws homeless to the neighborhood, according to city officials, but has not generated as much vocal support--or criticism--as the soup kitchen.
The review board consists of the city manager, or his appointed deputy; the president of the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce or deputy, and three residents.