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New Ordinances Ban Unruly Library Patrons, Regulate Food Trucks  

By Jason Islas
Special to The Lookout

February 10, 2009 – The Santa Monica City Council passed an two ordinances Tuesday without a dissenting vote, one giving the city's libraries the right to ban unruly patrons for up to a year, the other regulating food trucks.

The new addition to the Santa Monica Public Library's Code of Conduct is geared toward “a handful of people who cause problems over and over again,” Library Director Greg Mullen said.

Before this ordinance, the library couldn't keep disruptive patrons out of the library for more than a day.

“If we have a system of consequences in place, it would hopefully prompt people to comply with the rules,” Mullen said.

The ordinance also sets up an appeals process for patrons who feel that they have been unfairly banned.

The library code of conduct bans “noisy or disorderly conduct”, “threatening or harassing other patrons or staff” and “using the Library while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

More minor infractions include bad hygiene or carrying excessive baggage into the library.

Mullen clarified that the new ordinance is meant to deal with those who act out and get confrontational, either with other patrons, staff or on their own.

In the last year, approximately 1.5 million people visited the Santa Monica Public Library system. Out of that number, library security filed only about 300 incident reports involving the sort of disruptive behavior that this ordinance would target, Mullen said.

This has been an ongoing issue for a library that hosts many mentally ill patrons.

In 2006, Ocean Park Branch librarian Celia Carroll was assaulted by a homeless man after she confronted him about his increasingly disruptive behavior.

Carroll said she was repeatedly threatened by the man, who had responded with “a torrent of profanity,” “stormed out” after being told he couldn't smoke in the bathroom, and pulled out all the paper from the bathroom.

After a number of such incidents, she insisted the man leave the library. She followed him outside where he hit her on her back, causing her to fall and cut her face.

At that time, Carroll asked the city to increase library security, but Mullen expressed faith in the library's rules of conduct.

The new ordinance would address the kind of behaviors Carroll faced.

Library staff report that the procedure has been tried in various cities, including Glendale, Oakland and San Francisco, with good results, calling it “an effective behavior modification tool.”

Although the council has already acted on a first reading of an ordinance regulating food trucks, Tuesday night was set for a public hearing on the issue.

The ordinance passed its second reading after a brief presentation by Terrance Powell, a director at the Los Angeles County Department of Health.

Working with LA County Department of Health, Santa Monica has updated their food safety regulations in order to apply the letter grade system currently in use with restaurants to mobile food trucks.

We're trying “to disclose [food safety] information to the public in an organized way,” Powell told the council.

Aside from receiving and displaying letter grades from health inspectors like restaurants already do, mobile food trucks will now have to tell inspectors their locations so that inspections can happen on time.

Powell said that the new gourmet food truck trend hadn't increased the work load for health inspectors, but it has made the mobile food industry more visible.

Currently, LA county regulates approximately 6,000 mobile food facilities, about half of which are either motorized vehicles or trailers attached to one.

The trend of gourmet food trucks have raised some potential problems, Powell later said. He pointed out that sometimes many of these trucks gather in one place, raising the question of who is responsible for cleaning up the aftermath.

Mayor Richard Bloom suggested city staff get involved, and was told that they are already working closely with the county department of health on the clean-up issue.


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