L.A. City Council Bans Camping in Public Parks; Occupy Declares It a War on Civil Rights

Local politicians keep insisting that their new ban on camping in city parks was not in reaction to Occupy L.A.

That's insanely hard to believe, considering they're smack-dab in the middle of a makeover story starring the L.A. City Hall lawn -- which got thoroughly wrecked by the hundreds of protesters that camped on it all through winter.

Here's the new ordinance, passed unanimously today by the City Council. But not without a public-comment stinkstorm from homeless advocates and Occupites...

... as well as the occasional ex-Boy Scout, reminiscing on a youth filled with "camporals" at Griffith Park. (By imposing a harsher and more clearly defined tent ban, claimed J. H. McQuiston in a letter to City Hall, the city will crush the character-building "camporal" tradition. In response, committee members apparently added this line: "law enforcement officers should use their discretion in enforcing LAMC Section 63.44 et al." Great -- just give the LAPD all the power.)

The main gripe with this ordinance, however, has been: If camping is already prohibited in parks, why waste time on new legislation?

And that's where it's hard for councilmembers to deny that fear of a re-Occupation plays into their latest endeavor. By repeatedly mentioning that park-goers must comply with each facility's specific hours, the new ordinance lines up like a puzzle piece with another piece of legislation recently proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar: To close the revitalized City Hall lawn at 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

(Councilmembers want to impose the same restrictions on the massive new Civic Park next door, once it opens this summer. But the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, who've been claiming ownership of the Civic Park project, aren't about to let paranoid city leaders rain on their parade.)

Specific sleeping materials are also listed in the ban, giving no clever bum the chance to argue his way out of a ticket:

(i) "Camp" means to erect, maintain or occupy a Camp Facility for any purpose, including lodging or living accommodation.

(ii) "Camp Facility" means one or more of the following: a Tent, hut, other temporary physical shelter, cot, bed, sleeping bag, hammock or bedroll, erected, maintained or used for lodging or living accommodation. The recreational use of a sleeping bag or bedroll that is removed from the park upon closing and not used to Camp is not considered a camp facility.

(iii) "Tent" means shelter or structure that is not entirely open and which lacks an unobstructed view into the Tent, shelter or structure from the outside.

This obvious jab at protesters has attracted the ire of various civil-rights and First Amendment fighters.

"The United States Supreme Court and other courts have recognized that a tent represents expressive activity," attorney Carol Sobel recently said in an interview with KPCC. "There is a difference between sleeping and living in the tent and using the tent for expressive activity."

So city leaders might have a little thing called the Bill of Rights to worry about. And at the very least, Occupy L.A.'s general-assembly meeting at 6th and Olive tonight (yes, they still have those) should be one to remember.


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