State law to improve L.A. for businesses hurts the homeless

Business Improvement District authorities in Venice, California look on as personal belongings are taken from the homeless.


LOS ANGELES, CA — In the 1960’s the federal government began passing laws to help struggling urban areas across the country. The Property and Business Improvement District Law passed in California in 1994 authorizes cities to form property and business improvement districts for the purpose of levying assessments within a business improvement area. Meant to improve business areas and increase revenues, it currently is a detriment to the homeless in areas that are experiencing a homeless crisis.

In the mid 1990’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) were formed in downtown Los Angeles. The BIDs hired private security guards known by the color of their shirts. These security guards carried handguns and removed homeless people from private property known as “move-alongs.” Members of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) filed a lawsuit to address the civil rights violations committed by the BIDs’ security guards and removed their ability to carry handguns or conduct “move-alongs.”

A recent study was done by University of California Berkeley Law to determine the impact of the BID on the unhoused titled Homeless Exclusion Districts. Their key findings were that BIDS exclude homeless people from public spaces in their districts through policy advocacy and policing practices. The California BIDs organize collectively through the California Downtown Association to oppose state level civil rights legislation designed to decriminalize homelessness. Their involvement in social services has resulted in the homeless experiencing additional forms of policing, surveillance and harassment.

The Berkeley study states three major findings: 1) BIDs frequently engage in local and state advocacy to enact, maintain and strengthen anti-homeless laws. 2) BIDs spend property assessment revenue on anti-homeless policy advocacy. 3) The growing number of BIDs established after 1994 correlates with a sharp rise in the number of anti-homeless laws.

The study concludes with these recommendations:

The state legislature should amend state laws that grant BIDs excessive authority by prohibiting them from spending property assessment revenue on policy advocacy, repeal their authority to spend revenue on security and restrict them from collecting revenue from publicly owned properties.

It also recommends that cities regulate and scrutinize BIDs, rejecting those that participate in policy advocacy or policing practices. Cities should also refuse to collaborate with BIDs that violate the rights of homeless people.

In recent years BIDs in Los Angeles have faced scrutiny and have been faced with a number of lawsuits from property owners who were added to the BID without their consent and maintained their claims to improve the area were exaggerated according to the Los Angeles Times.

The people of Los Angeles would be better served by not participating in Business Improvement Districts meant to harm the homeless. With the current homeless crisis that is occurring in the city, residents both housed and unhoused need to work collectively on solutions that will help those that are unhoused obtain the services and housing they need, thereby improving the neighborhood.

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