This summer, thinking about the important role that LACAN’s pictures and video of LA Sanitation’s aggressive clean-ups of homeless encampments downtown have played in e.g. Mitchell v. Los Angeles, it occurred to me that it ought to be possible to get advance notice of encampment cleaning actions from the City via the California Public Records Act. Well, like everything involving CPRA, it turned out to be far more complicated than one might expect in advance.
Amazingly, Sanitation did supply me with materials. It was just the part about getting them in advance of the clean ups that was difficult. On August 5 I asked for the first time. On August 17 they asked for an extension. On September 13, after a certain amount of wheedling on my part, they sent me material for July and August, and a few days later, partial material for September. Still nothing in advance, though:
- July 2016 HE Conf
- July Calendar
- August Calendar (PDF)
- August Calendar (xlsx)
- August HE conf.
- September Calendar
- September HE Conf
The most important ones are the “HE Conf”1 documents. Those represent confirmed locations of clean-ups by Council District for the given month. They also reveal the suspected but, to my knowledge, unproven fact that locations where clean-up is requested by the Council District are given priority over other locations.2 I will be requesting these for the past as well as for the future. I think that mapping this data and otherwise analyzing it will provide important insights into the City’s mostly unarticulated-in-public policies towards the homeless, as well as deeper understanding. And understanding this world is fine. But the point3 is to change it.
Which is where my insistence on obtaining future information is essential. If we can get regular advance notice of clean-ups, we can get many of them filmed and on YouTube for the world to see. Even if nothing egregious happens at most of them, and probably that’s true, it will be crucial to be able to compare videos with the reports prepared later, and so on. So I kept hassling LA Sanitation and, miracle! Yesterday they sent me the schedule for today, September 29, 2016. It’s a proof of concept, and it means that eventually I will get a regular flow of future information. After the first one, they’ve admitted that the information isn’t exempt, and all that’s left is to work out the practical details, which I’m working on. That’s part one of this story.
Part two is the fact that one of the encampments on this morning’s list was at 4490 DeLongpre Avenue, which is a straight shot up Sunset from my house. Not having anything better to do this morning, I thought I would test out the validity of the schedule and go out there and film it. So I did. I got there about 8:15 a.m. There was a full contingent of Sanitation people sitting around waiting. There were notices on the utility poles of an impending clean-up.4
All this time the residents were moving their stuff around the corners, South on Virgil and on Lyman Place.5 I thought maybe the Sanitation people were giving them a chance to clean up on their own, but actually they were just waiting for LAPD to arrive. They pulled in about a quarter to nine, and cordoned off the block, pushing the residents out as they went. After the police lines were up they started cleaning immediately.
I ended up having to walk around the block the long way to be able to film with the sun behind me, so I didn’t get the whole thing. Also, I neglected to clean up my SD card, so my good phone started acting up in the middle, causing the video to come out in four parts, with the last half hour filmed on my not-so-good phone. But I got most of it recorded! It’s on YouTube:
And it’s also on Archive.Org. I also put all the still photos up there in full resolution in case you can use them for anything. Interestingly, one of the cops involved, Officer Robles, spent a lot of time talking to me about what they were doing. He invited me behind the line for a minute to film a bucket full of needles they’d collected. His theory was that help was available for homeless people but that they mostly didn’t want it. He also told me that they’d cleaned up this location before and they’d do it again. He thought the residents would return within a few hours after the operation concluded. And I’m going to give him the last word here, because why not?
All photos are ©2016 MichaelKohlhaas.org.
- Seems to mean “Homeless Encampment Confirmed,” but I’m not completely sure.
- In one sense this isn’t shocking, but I think it’s not shocking because Angelenos are numb to the fact that their Councilmembers function as dictators within their own districts.
- As my Commie philosophy profs in college never seemed to tire of reminding me.
- This is my next avenue for trying to get a regular stream of more than one day’s advance notice. These notices must have been prepared and posted more than one day in advance. And they constitute public records. Getting those is as good as getting the schedule. As always, stay tuned.
- This block of DeLongpre is bounded on the East by Virgil and on the West by Lyman Place. The whole block is right behind the Vons at Sunset and Hollywood or, more importantly, directly across Virgil from where Ricky’s Fish Tacos truck parks.