L.A. Considers Allowing Police to Remove People From High-Rise Fire Zones

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles City Council committee today approved a draft ordinance that would give law enforcement the authority to order homeless people out of encampments located in brush areas on high-risk fire days.

``The implications ... are dire in fire zones, particularly on red- flag days,'' said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee and co-authored the proposal with Councilman Bob Blumenfield. ``There are inherent threats that we must mitigate and provide safety for all individuals.''

The zones that will be marked off limits would be ``Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones,'' which are mapped by Cal Fire. Officials said most of the San Fernando Valley is within those zones, but they are limited by the state as to how large the zones can be.

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority representatives said they would normally not advocate for the removal of homeless people from public spaces, but in this case it's about their safety as well.

``Once the ordinance is adopted ... law enforcement will be able to give direct notice to individuals living in fire danger zones that they must move,'' Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week at a news conference in Van Nuys. ``That means that on these hot, red-flag days that come up during the summertime and increasingly year-round, we can now take a major step toward reducing the likelihood of encampment fires like we saw in 2017 with the Skirball Fire and last month in the Sepulveda Basin.''

Under the proposal, the enforcement would be addressed in three tiers. The first would be during no-risk days when LAFD would provide fire education materials for people in the areas. The second would be during red- flag days when law enforcement would be permitted to remove people. The third would be an enforcement response during a brush fire emergency.

The Unified Homelessness Response Center would track data of homeless people in areas where encampments repeatedly crop up.

The proposed ordinance still needs approval by the full City Council.

Councilman Joe Buscaino said he would like to see stronger stay-away orders included in the laws, but officials said those are typically issued by a judge.

In the motion, the council members acknowledged the city posts warnings on high-risk fire days, but they said it would be more effective to allow law enforcement to notify people in person.

``This notice would also warn the person that failure to immediately leave the restricted portion of the zone, or leaving and returning to the zone, constitutes a criminal trespass,'' the motion states.

Julie Raffish, an assistant Los Angeles city attorney, said the ordinance would allow law enforcement to fine or arrest people who don't comply.

The danger of homeless encampments in high-risk fire areas was highlighted July 30, when a blaze tore through brush in the Sepulveda Basin, where at least 100 homeless people were living in a makeshift encampment. The flames destroyed a number of tents and belongings of people living in the area.

In December 2017, the Skirball Fire scorched more than 400 acres in the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed a half-dozen homes and damaged 12 others. Fire officials initially said the blaze was sparked by ``an illegal cooking fire,'' but it was unclear if that preliminary finding has yet been confirmed by investigators.

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