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Council aims to thwart new Occupy protest at L.A. City Hall

L.A. leaders vote to ban tents in city parks as a precursor to reopening the City Hall lawn, which was the site of an eight-week Occupy encampment last year.

June 07, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Trinidad Gomez, left, on Wednesday gives food and a hug to Pablo Rodriguez, 72, who spent the night on the Spring Street sidewalk north of L.A. City Hall. The City Council passed a ban Wednesday on using tents, sleeping bags and cots in city parks when they are closed, but camping on sidewalks is still allowed.
Trinidad Gomez, left, on Wednesday gives food and a hug to Pablo Rodriguez,… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Looking to reopen the City Hall lawn without sparking a new and protracted occupation by demonstrators, the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to bar tents from being set up in more than 400 parks.

Wednesday's vote also explicitly prohibits using sleeping bags or cots in a park once it closes for the day. The changes were spearheaded by Councilman Richard Alarcon, who supported the Occupy movement that brought encampments to major cities around the nation.

The city has prohibited camping on city parkland for years, except in areas designated for that purpose. But last year Occupy L.A. demonstrators were allowed to spend eight weeks on the turf outside City Hall, eventually costing the city $4.7 million in police, cleanup and repair costs.

Councilman Dennis Zine, who voted for the new language, said the city needed "clarification and an understanding before the park reopens."

The revised ordinance will allow fences around the refurbished City Hall park, which has been sealed off since December, to finally come down, Alarcon has argued. "We do have an urgency," he said at a recent hearing.

Some neighborhood leaders say they want the same urgency brought to bear on encampments elsewhere in the city. Estela Lopez, executive director of the nonprofit Central City East Assn., said her group continues to grapple with a federal court order restricting police from removing possessions, including tents, that have been abandoned on skid row sidewalks.

After police ejected Occupy L.A. protesters from the City Hall park last year, dozens of people migrated to sidewalks on the eastern edge of downtown, Lopez said. "That occupation is on skid row, and it is growing in numbers," she said.

A 2007 legal settlement between homeless advocates and the city already allows sleeping on public sidewalks between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. But that settlement did not specifically address the issue of tents and sleeping bags on those sidewalks, said Special Assistant City Atty. Jane Usher.

Still, Wednesday's vote drew criticism from Occupy L.A. activists, who accused lawmakers of targeting protesters and the homeless.

"I think [Alarcon] just helped them declare war on us," said Donald Arthur Kronos, 48, of Westlake.

Alarcon said the rewritten ordinance would not prevent council members from waiving the park camping ban once again. "We could do exactly what we did before with Occupy L.A. … if we chose to," he said.

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Assn., a group that has lobbied for the removal of encampments on and near the Venice boardwalk, welcomed the council's action. But he also complained that city elected officials poured far more resources into removing Occupy L.A. from their doorstep than dealing with illegal encampments in his neighborhood.

Council members "care more about that park [at City Hall] than they do about the impact of large transient populations in Venice," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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