Barely a week after four people were found shot dead outside an unlicensed boarding house in Northridge, a bill that would regulate such homes drew passionate responses Monday.
About three dozen people, split between supporters and opponents, spoke at a hastily scheduled meeting of the Los Angeles City Council's Public Safety Committee.
After agreeing to amendments, the committee sent the Community Care Facilities Ordinance to the full City Council, which could vote as soon as January.
Committee Chairman Mitchell Englander said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa agreed to support the law with a provision for an automatic public hearing and "status report" a year after it takes effect.
Few of those who spoke directly mentioned the Northridge killings, and it's unclear whether any law would have prevented the crimes.
Even without the new law, the home violated numerous city codes, as inspectors found after the killings. But the city's code enforcement chief, Frank Bush, said the Department of Building and Safety doesn't have the manpower to do spot inspections. It inspects only after complaints, and that wouldn't change with a new law.
No one had called to report any recent problems at the home on Devonshire Street, so it's unlikely there would have been any inspection even had a new law been in place.
Still, the killings added urgency to the stalled boarding home law.
The legislation would ban boarding houses in most single-family zones. Until Monday, the bill defined "boarding house" as any place with people living under two or more leases. Housing advocates said that would have limited options for people getting federal funding, who by law must have separate leases.
Englander changed the standard from two or more leases to four or more.
Opponents, including recovering drug addicts and disability rights advocates, said the legislation could violate fair housing law and limit options for people who have few places to live.
Michael Arnold, executive director of the independent but government-created Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said the city has a "critical shortage" of affordable housing. And many of those who share housing to cut costs are good people who pose no problems, he said.
John Whitaker said his organization, the San Fernando Valley Sober Living Coalition, has 80 homes housing 800 people who would otherwise be homeless.
Proponents said they don't want to limit housing options but want to regulate homes where people live in unsafe or dirty conditions.
David Reid said 18 people lived in a four-bedroom house next door to him after a foreclosed home was turned into a "sober living house." After a crazed man jumped a fence into his yard one day, he said, he put razor wire on top of his fence.
"Yes, people need help," Reid said. "They're not getting help in facilities like this."
Englander, whose district includes the Northridge home where the Dec. 2 killings happened, said his late sister was disabled and lived in group homes. Englander, whose father also was disabled, said he wants to protect the public, not limit housing options.
Bush, the code enforcement chief, said there have been "quite a few" complaints about unauthorized group homes in the San Fernando Valley. Inspectors often find dangerous conditions including blocked windows, and police said they get frequent calls for drug activity, thefts and assaults at such homes.