Tom LaBonge Backtracks on Food Distribution Statements

Nearly three months after proposing to regulate lines of homeless and needy people waiting for food, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge said today his intention was never to ban food- distribution programs.

LaBonge in September called on city staff to look into ways other cities deal with the public food lines, which he said have been intruding into the "public rights of way" in his district. He also asked the city attorney to write an ordinance to regulate the activity.

The lines, which "frequently spill out onto the sidewalk and street," create safety issues and block access for disabled people, he said in his motion, which was seconded by fellow Hollywood-area councilman Mitch O'Farrell.

Though the motion was supported by several businesses in his district, it also gained some critics, and the debate around it attracted attention from the New York Times last week -- just as families were sitting down to Thanksgiving meals and people were volunteering at soup kitchens.

LaBonge said in an email today his motion "DOES NOT mention a 'ban' on public food distribution programs, nor is that something I would support as City Council member."

LaBonge said he supports "comprehensive" services offered by permanent supportive housing programs and is seeking a "permanent, more suitable location" for a public food distribution program in his district that has been the subject of complaints.

He also told the New York Times he wants the outdoor lines to be moved indoors.

A nightly food line at the corner of Romaine Street and Sycamore Avenue in Hollywood run by the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition has raised the ire of several nearby businesses. In October, those businesses submitted a petition with more than 40 signatures to the city complaining that the coalition's food line was a "public nuisance." They urged the city to take "immediate action" to discontinue the program.

The "assemblage" of more than 100 "homeless people" who gather at the corner each night has brought "havoc" to their neighborhood and a "wide array of serious criminal activity" that is "adversely affecting the quiet enjoyment of our properties and our legitimate business interests," according to the petitioners' statement.

A representative of the coalition, Ted Landreth, said the lines are peaceful and accused LaBonge and his staff of unfairly characterizing the people who wait in their lines as "a monstrous, faceless mob, and all of them, as a group, have been accused of being violent criminals and drug addicts and hopelessly mentally ill."

"Never has a group of Americans been so viciously defamed as have clients" of the coalition, Landreth said. He said that over the years they have worked closely with local law enforcement to ensure their lines are peaceful.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month reported that Los Angeles County has seen a 15 percent jump in the homeless population over the last two years, even as homelessness was declining nationally. The county's homeless population of 57,737 was also the second largest nationwide, behind New York.

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