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LA to consider new rules on homeless people's property

A man walks beside a row of tents for the homeless in Los Angeles, Califorinia on May 12, 2015.
Officials in Los Angeles are debating rules on what homeless people can store on the streets.

Los Angeles leaders are poised to pass new rules Friday restricting how much property homeless people can keep on the streets.

Current law limits homeless people to as much property as they can carry. Under the proposed changes, each person would be allowed up to 60 gallons' worth of items — about the size of a large recycling bin.

Senior assistant city attorney Valerie Flores said that’s enough room for a deconstructed tent, bedding, clothes, food, medicine and documents.

"We tried to pick an amount that would allow someone to live on the street if they had no other alternative," Flores told the council's Committee on Homelessness and Poverty Thursday.

Exceeding the 60-gallon limit, however, would give the city the right to take the extra items with a 24 hour’s notice. Exceptions would be made for certain items such as wheelchairs and walkers.

No notice for confiscation would be needed in certain situations, like when authorities think someone’s property poses a threat to public health or safety.

Flores said the new rules aims to strike a balance between keeping the street clean and homeless people's rights. The homelessness committee and the council's Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee have both recommended approval of the new rules to the full council which is scheduled to vote on the matter at 10:15 a.m. Friday.

"This revised ordinance is better, gentler and more legally defensible than what we have currently," said Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the homelessness panel and represents Venice and swaths of the West Side.

City leaders have lawsuits on the mind. This week, a group of homeless people sued the city for allegedly confiscating their property without due process or notice.

Bonin said the city needs to build more storage centers for homeless people around town to keep their belongings.

"It's absolutely ridiculous and inhumane to be taking belongings from people if we don't have an alternative for them," he said. "It is folly for us to keep trying to do that because we're just going to wind up in court again."

Bonin said without changes, the city might as well  "open up the keys to the reserve fund to Carol Sobel," the civil rights lawyer who is representing the homeless individuals in the suit announced this week. She has won other suits against the city for taking homeless people's property.

Business leaders such as Carol Schatz of the Central City Association said she was generally pleased  with the proposed changes such as the 60-gallon limit. 

"Given how difficult this issue is, it's better than not being able to take any of the belongings away which makes our streets impassable," Schatz said.

But Eric Ares, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said that the new rules will only give police and sanitation workers more power in their discretion to remove homeless people's belongings.

"The practical reality is this is used to prevent homeless individuals from having property on the street in undesirable areas — where Central City Association and the business community don't want people to reside," Ares said.

City Council opted Friday to delay voting on this matter until later this month.

This story has been updated.

This story has been updated.