Los Angeles Business Journal

Business Owners Alarmed by Homeless Rights Bill

By Howard Fine Monday, January 21, 2013

Tom Elliott has come up with solutions for dealing with the homeless who intrude on his gastropub on the Venice boardwalk.

He’s assigned one of his employees the task of shooing away homeless people who reach across a railing and grab food from his customers’ plates. And he calls the police to arrest some of the more aggressive homeless people.

So Elliott, who co-owns the Venice Ale House, is alarmed by a “homeless bill of rights” measure, introduced last month in Sacramento, which would give the homeless the right to conduct “life-sustaining activities” in public spaces, including in front of businesses.

If passed, the bill would prevent cities and business improvement districts from targeting homeless people through law enforcement. It would essentially legalize many activities of homeless people that hurt some businesses, such as sleeping on sidewalks in front of stores, panhandling or storing their possessions there.

Elliott, who chairs a new committee to improve the boardwalk, is not alone in his struggle to deal with the homeless. “I understand that the homeless should have rights, but my customers also have the right to eat undisturbed by the homeless,” he said. “Any legislation that would make it more difficult for us to keep away people and prevent them from harassing our customers would make things very difficult for us.”

Many other local business and property owners also are alarmed by the bill, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Business groups, especially business improvement districts in downtown areas and places such as Hollywood, say they have spent years working with social service agencies, law enforcement and even the homeless themselves to clean up and revitalize business districts. They fear that if the legislation passes, it could halt the progress that’s been made.

But in AB 5, Ammiano argues that the homeless have been the targets of discrimination. He compared the treatment of the homeless to Jim Crow segregation policies and laws against “ugly people” in the 19th century, and Chinese Americans and “Okies” in the early 20th century.

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