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LA Living in Vehicle Law Found UnConstitutional

by Peggy Lee Kennedy Friday, Jul. 11, 2014 at 12:22 PM

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision Overturns Long Standing Los Angeles Law Used to Criminalize the Vehicle Housed

LA Living in Vehicle...
copsonrv.jpg, image/jpeg, 797x570

It’s a sweet, but sad victory. This recently overturned unconstitutional Los Angeles City law, LAMC 85.02, has been used over the years to harm many more people than the four plaintiffs in the Desertrain vs. City of Los Angeles appeal.

Harassment, arrests, tickets, vehicle tows, pets taken to the pound, stay-away orders, intimidating city attorney meetings, unnecessary court appointments, warrants for those who could not show up, inappropriate fear mongering by the city and homeless hate groups - these are some of the injustices connecting the victims of this unconstitutional law. We have a systemically broken city government in Los Angeles that criminalizes poverty.

The hope is this decision will result in more overall justice for those being criminalized by the laws used to target homeless people. This would require our elected leaders finding the guts to honestly try to fix some deeply damaged policy, taking the responsibility to stop certain behavior, and even create some process of reconciliation. Not just using our tax dollars to pay for the many re-wounding mistakes of the City through costly litigation.

The City Attorney did, in his own way, acknowledge this in his June 19 statement regarding the decision: “We need to make a break from the past, recognize that the civil and criminal justice systems alone can’t effectively address homelessness, and commit ourselves to grappling with the issues that create homelessness in the first place.” With law enforcement taking up the largest portion of the city’s monies, shifting the budget toward policies focused on real solutions is much harder done than said. Talk is cheap, but the City Attorney coming out and saying that his office is not appealing the decision is a good baby first step for sure.

Carol Sobel, the civil rights attorney who won this important case, remains positive and believes “Not only is this a victory for unhoused individuals, but it is also a very important step in the judicial recognition of the need to address any legitimate issues the City seeks to remedy by some more humane means than criminalizing poverty.” And she is so right. There are plenty more humane means to addressing homelessness than ticketing, arresting, towing, and police harassment.

The story of this unconstitutional living in vehicle Los Angeles law is not new, but the lawsuit starts with Councilman Mike Bonin’s mentor and predecessor, Bill Rosendahl. He was champion for pushing through the OPD (Overnight Permit District) LA City law, specifically used to remove anyone living in a vehicle from a street – very often on streets with no residents, like by a park or a golf course.

It basically backfired. While we were fighting against OPDs at the California Coastal Commission, because Venice is in the coastal zone and parking equals access, OPDs were going up all over the rest of LA. The vehicle housed people had less and less places to park; while more people were becoming homeless and vehicle housed at the same time. Not such a smart move for Bill Rosendahl, considering the Venice OPD resistance we mounted.

Not one parking space in Venice was offered to the vehicle housed in order to offset this struggle to crimialized the vehicle housed out of Venice. Plenty of big talk from Bill about a safe parking program along with the money spent on some ridiculous consultant to create one. Not to mention how Bill touted that he was going to amend LAMC 85.02 so people could have a place to park!

Now the law is gone, where the hell are those safe parking spots Mr Bonin? (Mike Bonin, the current council person, was Bill’s chief of staff.) It is quite a bunch of S.H.I.T. as the City keeps putting up more “No Oversized Vehicles from 2-6am” parking signs everywhere in Venice to continue the criminalization removal efforts. But I digress.

Anyway, Bill Rosendahl and his criminalize-the-homeless posse lost their battle for OPDs at the Coastal Commission in 2009 and again in 2010. There began a never seen before war waged on anyone in what even looked like a live-aboard vehicle in Venice. I encourage everyone to read the 9th Circuit decision on line http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/06/19/11-56957.pdf. It is an easy nineteen-page read that tells a simplified version of the story of the four plaintiffs, described by a respected Judge. Nasty behavior by the City of Los Angeles, in Venice, is exactly what led to the Desertrain lawsuit. This included a considerable uncalculated amount of funds spend on different kinds of special task forces created to assault the vehicle housed population out of Venice. We really have no idea how much money this has cost the tax-payer and, more importantly, how much harm has been done to innocent people.

We are waiting for it to turn around. The money now spent on these over-the-top homeless “clean up” sweeps and defending the other laws used to target homeless people in Venice is more of the same costly insanity, now led by Mike Bonin. By the way, saying you are against criminalizing homelessness is not enough. In fact it is Orwellian to say the words when you support outrageous city recourses used for inhumane, non-solutions at the same time.

The City writes laws, often called Quality of Life Laws, and continues to enforce laws in a discriminatory way that affect homeless people disproportionately. Mike Bonin recently announced that his council district budget for prosecuting these types of laws had been increased. Not exactly the change we were hoping for.

The court determined that LAMC 85.02 was written and enforced in such a way that it encouraged arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Calvin Moss, with the Venice Justice Committee, commented that “The Judge just nailed it on this one, a classic historical constitutional decision.”

Ninth Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in his conclusion, “For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession — the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.”

Our Justice Committee does not enjoy catching the City violating civil and human rights. We would rather find real change.
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