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LA City Council OKs new rules for seizing homeless persons' possessions

Homeless people rest on a public sidewalk early this year in downtown skid row area of Los Angeles. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is attempting to end
Homeless people rest on a public sidewalk early this year in downtown skid row area of Los Angeles. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles is attempting to end "chronic homelessness" by 2016 with a model that identifies the neediest cases and provides them with permanent homes.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Homeless encampments and items left in public areas of Los Angeles by homeless persons can be seized more quickly under new rules approved by the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, despite a disruptive protest in the council meeting.

About a dozen protesters interrupted the meeting, calling the rules "criminal'" and jangling keys as they shouted, "House keys, not storage!'' while being escorted out of the council chamber by security officers.

Despite the outburst, the council adopted a faster process for removing personal property left on sidewalks and in city parks. The council had tentatively adopted the rules last week, but the decision was not unanimous and required a second vote.

ABC7 VIDEO: Protest by advocates for the homeless disrupts LA city council meeting.

City leaders who support the new rules say they will replace existing ones that are too broad and had rendered anything left on the ground vulnerable to seizure. They also cited a 12 percent increase in the transient population and an 85 percent jump in the number of tents and encampments, based on the latest countywide homeless count.

"We are now a city of encampments" due to the city's inability to deal with homelessness over the past 10 years, said Councilman Mike Bonin.

Under the two ordinances approved by the council on Tuesday, the noticing period before removing personal items from parks and sidewalks will be shortened to 24 hours from the current 72 hours. No notice will be needed for the removal of bulky items from sidewalks and parks. The city will be required to store any non-bulky belongings for 90 days. If the items are not claimed, the property may be discarded.

The ordinances were adopted as city officials work to reach a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the city by several homeless people. The case led to an injunction preventing the city from removing the belongings of the homeless.

Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes downtown's Skid Row area where many of the city's homeless services are centralized, said last week that getting rid of the injunction "is a critical piece in getting a better handle'' on homelessness in the city.

One of the ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It will allow officials to remove personal items that remain in the parks — including beaches — past closing time and when there is already a sign at the park stating that leaving behind items is prohibited.

If there is no sign, the city would need to give 24 hours notice before items are removed.

A second ordinance for sidewalks bans tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but allows the homeless to set up tents to use as shelter at night. If the city does not have enough space to store the items left on sidewalks, officials would not be allowed to remove them, the City Attorney's office said.

Under both ordinances, any item that is a health or safety risk — such as something that could spread disease, contains vermin, or is a dangerous weapon — can be discarded without advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice.