A Los Angeles City Council meeting erupted into chaos on Tuesday, with a public speaker climbing over a bench and onto the council floor to confront council President Nury Martinez, prompting police to fill the chamber.
Officers apprehended a second member of the public on the council floor moments later, while activists screamed at police and at least one audience member sprayed water from a bottle on officers. One audience member was arrested, police said.
Martinez abruptly recessed the meeting, leaving dozens of activists in the room chanting “Abolish 41.18!” — a reference to the city law prohibiting homeless encampments at libraries, freeway overpasses and other locations. Shortly after 11 a.m., an LAPD captain declared an unlawful assembly within the chamber, prompting scores of protesters to file out.
“I’ve never seen anything like this — ever,” Councilman Joe Buscaino said after the room had cleared.
The incident took place one week after protesters brought another meeting — also dealing with the anti-encampment law — to a halt, chanting “shut it down” repeatedly until council members took an hourlong recess.
Martinez said Tuesday’s episode brought City Hall “one step closer” to the type of behavior that occurred in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, when protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol. At least five people died and more than 700 people were arrested in connection with the insurrection.
Around 11:45 a.m., the council reconvened.
“We cannot legislate in fear,” Martinez said, once the meeting resumed. “I certainly won’t.”
Sabrina Johnson, a co-founder of the activist group People’s City Council, said comparisons to Jan. 6 are “ridiculous.”
“It’s not like we’re storming the building. We’re going through security. We’re going through the proper channels,” Johnson said. “This is our only opportunity to give them feedback because they don’t answer phone calls and messages to their office.”
The skirmish on the council floor broke out during the meeting’s public comment period, with a majority of speakers denouncing a proposal to ban encampments next to schools and day-care centers. The council voted in favor of that measure last week, but because the tally was not unanimous, the proposal needed a second vote.
The meeting was tense from the start. Audience members hissed and shouted expletives at council members as they entered the room. Martinez told audience members to “grow up,” prompting jeers from the crowd. When Councilman Curren Price attempted to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, audience members booed.
Partway into public comment, one audience member approached the lectern and directly addressed Martinez, peppering those comments with expletives. The audience member attempted to move a bench bolted into floor, causing a loud crunch, then climbed over it and approached the council dais.
“I live on the f— streets,” the audience member yelled, as three police officers attempted to move the speaker toward the exit. While officers were attempting to detain the speaker, a second audience member entered the council floor. A line of police officers in riot helmets filed into the room.
The second audience member, Ricci Sergienko, was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest and taking another person from lawful custody, police said in a Tuesday night news release. Police had also listed vandalism as a potential charge earlier in the day, though that was not included in the final news release.
Sergienko is another co-founder of the People’s City Council, which has sharply criticized the city’s policies on homelessness.
Police said earlier in the day that two audience members were arrested but later clarified that only Sergienko was arrested, while another person was briefly detained.
Officers initially intended to arrest the speaker who climbed over the bench and approached council members, but Sergienko “interrupted the detention,” pulling the speaker away from police, LAPD Capt. Elaine Morales said.
The speaker who had been briefly detained then left the building, Morales said.
Sergienko could not be reached immediately for comment.
Once the meeting resumed, the anti-encampment ordinance was approved on an 11-3 vote, with Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman opposed. The new restrictions will prohibit people from sitting, sleeping, lying on or storing property within 500 feet of every public and private school, not just the few dozen selected by the council over the last year.
“This is going to make the problem worse,” Bonin said. “This is going to disconnect people from services. This is going to channel our time and our money and our energy into moving people around, not moving people inside.”
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Activist groups contend the ordinance would effectively criminalize poverty, rendering as much as a fifth of the city’s sidewalks off limits to the city’s neediest. Homeless services providers have also objected, saying the new restrictions will make it more difficult to help the unhoused.
Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho urged the council to approve the restrictions in May. Parents with children attending the L.A. Unified School District, many of them Spanish speakers, have also testified in favor of the new restrictions, saying they viewed encampment residents as a potential danger to their children.
“We have parents now that are driving two blocks to drive into a parking lot to drop their kids off to school, or driving even a block just for their safety,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, a supporter of the new limits. “That’s not a circumstance we should be in, and we have to take some action.”
The crackdown comes as the city is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into aid for L.A.’s unhoused, including bridge home shelters, “tiny home” villages and new affordable housing projects.
On Thursday, a council committee will take up a plan to extend the operations of three hotels being used for Project Roomkey, which provides temporary housing for homeless residents. Those hotels, which have a combined 780 rooms, were originally slated to close over the next several weeks.
Extending the deadline for closing Project Roomkey is expected to cost $28.3 million, according to a report on the proposal. The city has committed $245 million to Project Roomkey so far, the report said.