Tuesday’s Whittier City Council meeting opened with a presentation by three students from the East Whittier School District Mr. Roboto Robotics Club, at the invitation of Second District Councilmember Henry Bouchot. Students Diego, Elias, and Jonas shared the results of their research project into innovative ways to provide housing.
“We all joked about why we couldn’t build houses out of Legos just like we did when we were kids,” Elias said. But in fact, the boys proposed repurposing waste plastic to make bricks used in building homes, based on the work of a company in Colombia that is making, in essence, giant Legos. The boys spoke to a room full of tense adults with a confidence beyond their years.
Not everyone that stepped up to the podium brought a message as uplifting as these boys. Faced with a roomful of angry anti-homeless advocates, Whittier City Council ultimately voted to enact two anti-camping laws–against legal advice, and at risk of a lawsuit.
Over a dozen angry Public Comments varied from “what if we’re trying to house criminals?” to demands that the city “take the cuffs off the police and let them do their job.” Some described incidents of public urination and bathing in public, explicit drug use, and even pushing and shoving; others pointed fingers at Councilmember Bouchot, claiming that his interests were not those of the citizens of Whittier.
Only three people spoke against the criminalization of homeless people, two of whom were legal aid lawyers.
“I can tell you from direct experience that the criminalization of unhoused people dramatically decreases their ability to be housed,” said Monique Arellano, a full time staff member from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Arrellano said further, “An unhoused person’s belongings are crucial to their survival, and with winter around the corner, passing an ordinance like [no camping or storage of personal property in public areas] could have fatal results without truly coming to a solution.”
Shayla Myers, another member of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said, “Adopting an ordinance and tracking many of the problems that the City of Los Angeles is seeing with this ordinance is a step backwards when it comes to thinking about the real needs of our clients who are unhoused on the streets of Whittier. There are many, many things that the city of Whittier could do, but seizing and destroying people’s belongings in violation of the constitution is not one of them.”
Although many of those in attendance had clapped for each other when listing their grievances, none of them clapped for Arellano and Myers.
Early on in the meeting, Councilmember Cathy Warner moved to add an Urgency Ordinance to implement a new, stricter anti-camping ordinance immediately, instead of 30 days from the second reading.
It wasn’t just the camping and storage of personal property in public areas that was up for debate and vote, but also the enforcement of a curfew for Leffingwell Ranch Park.
Councilmember Josue Alvarado debated that all the curfew would do was move the problem from one park to another and playing “hot potato” with the issue as well as trying to figure out whether the City can actually provide the resources required to implement the curfew.
After much discussion where the Council went back and forth, it was Whittier PD Captain Aviv Bar who made things clear not just to the council, but to the room at large.
“We do make arrests in parks and we do issue citations for a variety of things. I think sometimes people feel like if we get there we can solve the homelessness crisis. That is an insurmountable task for our police officers. We can only deal with what we see…We do take people to jail that violate the law.”
Ultimately, the ruling on the curfew at Leffingwell Ranch Park was passed unanimously, with the consensus that Council would be looking at curfews for all the parks.
Ordinance No. 3105, Camping and Storage of Personal Property in Public Areas, which was renamed No. 31011, was also passed unanimously. This means that any unhoused neighbors would have to take down their tents between 8am and 9pm.
All eyes are on City Council to take care of the homeless crisis as humanely as possible.
Click here to change this text