by Elizabeth Chou for Los Angeles Public Press

A long-awaited city report meant to scrutinize a controversial Los Angeles law banning sitting, lying, and sleeping in public areas was released with little fanfare Friday — and a year late.

The report found the expense of carrying out Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.18, which is used as a tool to prevent unhoused people from setting up encampments, was at least $3 million. Los Angeles Police Department costs were not included in that amount. 

Meanwhile, data from the region’s homeless services agency showed that only two people were housed. The report also included feedback from USC and UCLA researchers, services and housing providers, and people who have experienced homelessness who are highly critical of the law.

The effectiveness and cost of 41.18, the subject of the report, has widely been called into question. The law is routinely criticized by unhoused Angelenos, advocates, service providers, and others for enabling the criminal penalty of sleeping outside for people who lack any other realistic alternative. 

Enforcement, or the threat of enforcement, of the law is frequently used as a tool to prevent unhoused people from setting up encampments. The report released Friday follows another, leaked to the public in March, authored by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which found that the law was “generally ineffective” in housing people. That conclusion was included in the newly released report by Los Angeles’ Chief Legislative Analyst, posted to the city website Friday afternoon.

The quiet release of the report reflects a lack of seriousness around the law and its “traumatic” effects on many community members, said Adam Smith, human rights organizer with LA Community Action Network (LA CAN).

“If the city actually wanted to provide a comprehensive report-back to the community on the cost and efficacy of 41.18, it would be a no-brainer. There would be an open hearing, with the sanitation department presenting what they found, and with all of these other departments asked to do a report back,” he said. “It should be front and center.”

Smith said that a community hearing in which city staffers presented their findings, and community members could share their experiences with public officials, is critical. 

LA CAN has long monitored the effects of enforcement tools used on unhoused people on Skid Row, where officers have often threatened to use 41.18, but not necessarily issued citations. Those effects are not easily captured in a written report, he said, which was why there needs to be a robust city hearing on the law.

LA CAN, which is calling for abolishing the law, released their own report, “Separate and Unqual,” in February about the effects the law has had on unsheltered Angelenos. Their report found that the overwhelming majority of unhoused people surveyed had their property taken as they were forced out of public areas. Nearly 40 percent said they were not offered any housing after such enforcement. The group’s report called for redirecting funds used on enforcement toward outreach, housing, and health services. LAHSA’s report, which had been submitted to the city last November, concluding that the law was ineffective in housing people, was leaked two days later.

Kris Rehl, an organizer with the mutual aid collective LA Street Care said the city’s report on the law “provides data on what we already knew.” Rehl said to the two people cited in the report as getting housed was a “damning indictment.” Those two people represent less than a percent of the thousands of unhoused people engaged during enforcement of 41.18.

“The ordinance isn’t just cruel and ineffective—it exacerbates the crisis, making it nearly impossible to connect people to housing and services,” he said. “City Council must repeal 41.18, put a moratorium on evictions, establish a living wage, and invest in community-led housing solutions.”

City staffers also reported similar feedback from stakeholders, which included interviews not only with LA CAN, but also service providers, and USC and UCLA researchers who were “overwhelmingly critical” of the law. Many of the stakeholders called for the “termination, replacement or more limited use of 41.18,” saying the law is “inhumane and placed an undue burden” on vulnerable people. They said it made providing services difficult. 

The report also includes feedback from a panel of people who have experienced homelessness. Its members said that people often only hear about 41.18 operations last minute and through word of mouth, and that displacement due to the law “enhances anxiety and adds unnecessary stress to a population already coping with a multitude of financial and mental health difficulties.” 

Members of the panel, the Lived Experience Advisory Board, said the law “had exacerbated the unhoused population’s relationship with police,” making it difficult for “these parties to communicate and form productive relationships.” They were “overwhelmingly critical” of the law, but also “agreed that 41.18 had made city streets safer in certain instances,” according to the report.

City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky first called for an examination of the cost and effectiveness of the law in a motion approved by the full council in April 2023. City staff were instructed to report back in 60 days. The resulting report on Friday was sent to the Homelessness and Housing Committee, but an upcoming committee hearing for the first week of June does not have the issue on the agenda.

The city report released Friday provided data showing that 75% of the citations issued under LAMC 41.18 were concentrated in just three LAPD divisions – Devonshire in the northwest San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles on the Westside north of National Boulevard, and the Rampart Division, which covers Echo Park, Silver Lake, Historic Filipinotown, Pico Union and Westlake. 

“Other area stations, such as Hollenbeck, Foothill, Northeast, and others have few or zero recorded citations,” according to the report. Similar data can also be found on City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s website.

The report also said the law cost the city at least $3 million spread across two city departments – that of the City Administrative Officer and Sanitation. However, the report did not include the costs incurred by the police department, which is tasked with carrying out enforcement of the law, nor does it include reports on the role of the city attorney’s office.

Sharon Tso, the chief legislative analyst, explained in an email response to LA Public Press that the reason the LAPD costs were not included in the report was because “the LAPD does not track their deployment that is specifically associated with 41.18 efforts. We were therefore unable to provide an amount attributable to 41.18.” 

Read the whole report here.

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