The City Council approved a new law Tuesday night that codifies city libraries’ right to enforce their existing code of conduct. Patrons who have been suspended from Long Beach libraries could soon face criminal charges if they don’t abide by bans issued by the library.

The new ordinance was requested last year by the city’s library director who said that it would give libraries the legal backing needed to suspend library patrons who are disruptive or cause safety issues.

Despite enshrining that ability in the city’s code, officials said using it would remain rare.

“Suspending privileges in terms of visitation is a thing we do only do as a last resort,” said Cathy De Leon, the city’s director of Library Services.

De Leon pointed to the 2023 fiscal year where she said over 650,000 people visited city libraries and only disruptive 446 incidents were recorded. Of those, De Leon said 131 resulted in a ban.

Support watchdog journalism

Who has eyes on City Hall? We do. The Long Beach Post is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Donate now to support independent accountability journalism that cuts through the political spin.

Things like fighting, lewd conduct and theft or destruction of library property can all lead to a one-year ban. Smaller infractions like making loud noises, sleeping on library furniture, bringing in too many personal belongings, smoking or vaping, not wearing sufficient clothing or not “reasonably” managing personal hygiene could lead to suspensions of up to three months, according to the code of conduct.

If a person facing a ban returns to a library during their suspension and refuses to leave they could be charged with a misdemeanor that would be punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Patrons can also have their borrowing privileges suspended if they rack up more than $25 in library fees for things like lost or damaged materials.

The ordinance also creates a new appeals process that didn’t exist before the council’s vote, which would allow a person facing a suspension to make a case to have it thrown out.

The ordinance was viewed by some as a way to criminalize unhoused people. The city’s libraries and their staff have increasingly been on the front lines of the city’s homelessness crisis. More homeless people have been turning to libraries as safe, quiet and climate-controlled spaces where they can charge devices, access the internet and escape the elements.

However, the city said it was forced to temporarily close multiple libraries over the past few years due to increasingly alarming incidents involving people with mental health issues that caused staff to fear for their wellbeing.

Several council members denied that the ordinance was targeting the city’s unhoused population.

“To me, this is not about limiting folks from being able to go to our libraries, it’s about anyone having free access to our libraries in a way that is safe,” Mayor Rex Richardson said Tuesday.

The council will take another procedural vote on the ordinance, likely at its April 2 meeting. The ordinance could go into effect as soon as May if it’s signed by Richardson, who signaled Tuesday night that he supported it.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.