Attorneys Threaten Legal Action On Homeless Ordinance

August 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Attorneys said Wednesday they may take legal action if Los Angeles city leaders fail to rescind a recently adopted ordinance that makes it easier and faster for the city to dismantle homeless encampments and confiscate transients’ belongings.

Attorneys for the Los Angeles Community Action Network – a Skid Row-based organization that advocates for low-income and homeless people – sent a 17-page letter on Tuesday to city officials detailing their concerns about the ordinance, which they say is “unconstitutional” and contains the “same legal defects” of an earlier law that was struck down in court.

The measure shortened the noticing period from 72 hours to 24 hours before belongings on sidewalks and other public areas can be confiscated and imposes criminal penalties for non-compliance.

“We urge you to withdraw the ordinance and avoid subjecting the city to ongoing legal liability,” attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson and Public Counsel wrote.

The letter was sent to Councilmen Jose Huizar and Maqueence Harris-Dawn, co-chairs of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which was meeting Wednesday to discuss proposed amendments to the ordinance.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, said the office is “currently analyzing the letter.”

The ordinance was adopted by the City Council earlier this year and went into effect in July without Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature.

LACAN activists urged Garcetti to veto the ordinance, but the mayor responded that he had assurances from the City Council that it would amend the measure. He also said he instructed city officials to suspend enforcement of the law until the amendments are in place.

The activists maintain that Garcetti has limited authority to put enforcement on hold, and LACAN’s attorneys said Wednesday the proposed amendments now being considered will not sufficiently improve the ordinance.

The ordinance “is unconstitutional and the proposed amendments do nothing to change that fact,” LACAN’s attorneys wrote. “The City Council should reconsider and rescind its passage of the ordinance as soon as possible and consider means to address the problem that are humane as well as constitutional.”

The attorneys contend the law will lead to the “unreasonable” seizure of personal belongings, and a “proposed amendment removing specific reference in the definition of ‘Personal Property’ to ‘personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items’ will have absolutely no legal effect.”

“Such items will still constitute ‘tangible property’ and personal property as that term is understood in our laws,” the attorneys wrote, adding that the ordinance would also allow “the confiscation of medication and critical documents.”

“By seizing those possessions, the city affirmatively places homeless people in danger and exposes itself to danger-creation liability,” according to the attorneys, who also maintain that provisions for notifying people before items are confiscated are “constitutionally deficient.”

The ordinance would make failing to comply with the ordinance “even when compliance is impossible” a criminal act, the attorneys say, and would also lead to “severe consequences for immigrants, in particular for those otherwise eligible to seek deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA); family members of citizens and permanent residents seeking adjustment of status; and applicants for naturalization.”

Garcetti Defends Homeless Ordinance Stance

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Wednesday he would have vetoed changes to the municipal code that make it easier to issue criminal citations, dismantle homeless encampments and confiscate personal belongs left in public areas if City Council members had not promised to make amendments to the ordinances.

Garcetti told City News Service the council will be exploring changes in provisions that create criminal penalties and allow an easier and faster process for taking people’s personal property, including prescriptions and important documents.

The City Council, “who I work very well with,” struck a gentleman’s agreement with him and “assured me these amendments would be added,” Garcetti said.

“If they were saying, ‘We are not going to add them,’ I would have vetoed it,” he said. “But they are adding them. They say it’s going to be done in August.”

Garcetti said he has instructed city departments, including the Los Angeles Police Department, to hold off on enforcing the changes, which took effect even though the mayor didn’t sign them. Only after the amendments are adopted, “and people’s personal property, prescriptions, criminal penalties, all that stuff is changed, then we’ll go with the new protocol,” he said.

Activists from groups advocating for homeless people camped outside Garcetti’s home over the weekend in an effort to persuade him to veto the ordinances, with many saying that if they become law, the mayor has limited power to keep police from enforcing them.

Since Garcetti opted not to veto them, they became law and could be enforced by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The mayor’s decision prompted criticism that Garcetti lacked leadership on the issue.

“I don’t think people are going to forget this,” Los Angeles Community Action Network President Pete White told CNS Monday. “(Garcetti’s) voting pattern and backbone has always been in question, even in City Council.”

White also questioned whether the mayor has the ability to stop officers from enforcing the law.

Garcetti told CNS on Wednesday he does have the ability to set the priorities of the police department.

Whatever law is in the books “is just what is allowed, but that is not what is permitted,” Garcetti said.

“You still have a protocol. … I can direct the police department to focus on certain parts of town. I can have them focus on certain crimes if that’s the priority right now, like domestic violence,” he said.

One of the ordinances in question applies to items left on sidewalks,while the other applies to items left in parks. Garcetti returned them to the City Council Tuesday without his signature.

In a letter to the council, Garcetti said he is returning the ordinances and supports their plan to “consider amendments that would enable smarter enforcement, ensure more compassionate treatment of homeless Angelenos and strengthen the city’s ability to withstand legal challenge.”

Garcetti reiterated his opinion that “the ordinance does not adequately achieve the proper balance” between the keeping public areas “clean and safe,” while also protecting the rights of the homeless.

Garcetti added that he “will be directing city departments to defer implementation of these ordinances until the committee and City Council adopt changes to the ordinances.”

In the meantime, “city departments shall continue to keep our public areas clean and safe using existing citywide protocols for the removal of personal property,” he wrote.

Some protesters from the Los Angeles Community Action Network, the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition and other groups came to City Hall Monday to present their written demands to the mayor’s office. They were detained on the first floor lobby and were not allowed to enter the mayor’s office on the third floor.

Garcetti’s homeless policy director, Greg Spiegel, went out to speak to them instead, arranging to meet with them again Friday morning to discuss the ordinances.

L.A Moves to Make Removal of Homeless Encampments Easier

June 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday gave tentative approval to rules for dismantling homeless encampments and removing personal property left on sidewalks and in city parks.

Under the current process, the city gives 72 hours notice before removing personal items. The two ordinances tentatively backed by the council Tuesday would shorten the notice period to 24 hours, and the city would be required to store the belongings for 90 days.

If the items are not claimed, the property may be discarded.

No notice would be needed for the removal of bulky items from sidewalks and parks, under the rules.

One of the ordinances applies specifically to items left at city parks. It would allow officials to remove personal items that remain at city parks — including beaches — past closing time and when there is already a sign at the park stating that leaving behind items is prohibited.

If there is no sign, the city would need to give 24 hours notice before items are removed.

A second ordinance for sidewalks would ban tents from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. but would allow the homeless to set up tents to use as shelter at night.

If the city does not have enough space to store the items left on sidewalks, officials would not be allowed to remove them, city attorneys said.

Under both ordinances, any item that is a health or safety risk — such as something that could spread disease, contains vermin, or is a dangerous weapon — would be discarded without any advance notice. Items considered contraband or evidence of a crime could also be removed by the city without notice, under the rules.

The ordinances are being considered as city officials work to reach a settlement in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by several homeless people. The case led to an injunction that prevents the city from removing the belongings of the homeless.

Councilman Jose Huizar said getting rid of the injunction “is a critical piece in getting a better handle” on homelessness in the city. The city has also put more money into homelessness response teams and sanitation crews, he said, adding that “we’ve got to build more housing.”

“But in the meantime it’s important for us to move forward and settle (the lawsuit), and get a better ordinance that would deal with items improperly left on public rights of way,” Huizar said.

He added that he is “not too comfortable with the timing” of the ordinances, “but we do have court requirements, settlement discussions that are happening, so we have to move forward with something.”

“I don’t think it’s a perfect ordinance,” he said, and he hopes to further discuss the rules in the City Council’s newly formed homeless committee, which will hold its first meeting later this month.

He said the rules adopted Tuesday would “establish some conditions” so the city can reach a settlement in the lawsuit, but he hopes to adjust them to “strike a better balance” between the rights of the homeless and residents concerned about safety and cleanliness.

Last month, Assistant City Attorney Valerie Flores told the city’s Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee the current rules for removing items are too broad, and make it a “crime to leave personal belongings on a sidewalk.”

Flores said the new rules would “strike a balance by decriminalizing certain homeless individuals who need to set their belongings down, versus … the current ordinance which makes every placing of the items on the sidewalk considered a crime.”

Councilman Mike Bonin, who will chair the homelessness committee, said that because of the city’s inability to deal with homelessness over the past 10 years, “we are now a city of encampments.”

City officials said the latest homeless count in Los Angeles County found there was a 12 percent increase in the homeless population, and an 85 percent jump in the “number of tents, makeshift encampments” and “vehicles occupied by homeless people.”

Bonin said the new rules succeed in that they shorten the notification period and no longer make it a crime just to set an item down in public.

But he said the ordinance fails because it makes it “too easy to seize someone’s personal belongings, such as prescriptions and their personal documents,” while also not being strong enough to allow the city to clear public walkways in order to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since the votes were not unanimous, with Councilman Gil Cedillo casting the lone dissenting vote, the ordinances backed Tuesday must return to the council for a final vote.

Council members also introduced amendments to the ordinances Tuesday, mostly to refine them and further define what is considered a “bulky item,” which the city would be allowed to remove immediately, under the rules.

Those proposals will be considered by the homelessness committee.

Homeless advocates who gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall Tuesday spoke out against the new rules, saying the city should do more to provide housing instead of spending money to build storage facilities to hold the belongings of the homeless.

The city currently stores confiscated items in downtown’s Skid Row area.

Homeless Dwellings Removed from Arroyo Seco Channel

June 4, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

Struggling to push the bicycle loaded with his belongings along the bumpy path carved out of the brush next to the Arroyo Seco channel in Highland Park last week, a homeless man grumbled he was being forced to leave the encampment that was his home.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do! I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said as he pushed his bike through a hole cut in the wire-mesh fencing next to the Avenue 57 exit on the Arroyo Seco Parkway-110 Pasadena Freeway.

Lea este artículo en Español: Indigentes Son Removidos del Canal de Arroyo Seco

He was one of more than two-dozen homeless people removed from illegal encampments located between Avenues 52 and 57; invisible to many of the drivers on the freeway.

But to residents living nearby, the network of knotted tarps, tents, clothes hanging from the bushes and fencing and growing piles of trash are not only an eyesore, they’re a public safety issue.

They demanded that the city clean up the area and move the homeless out.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

In response, on May 25, as required by law, the city posted signs notifying encampment dwellers that they had three days to leave and remove their belongings before the city starts clearing the area on May 28.

The city’s departments of public works, parks and recreation, officers from the Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions and the of Councilman Gil Cedillo (CD1), coordinated the cleanup.

County mental health workers and employees with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) were also called in to assist anyone wanting help: there were no takers.

“CD1 takes these complaints seriously,” Cedillo told EGP in an email. “The intent was not only to ensure the safety and livability for the surrounding community, but to also offer homeless services to the individuals living in the encampments and to get them connected with valuable social services,” he said.

About 30 people were living in the 17 encampments along the Arroyo, according to public works spokesman Jimmy Tokeshi. He said it took a day and a half to clear the 18 tons of trash and debris removed from the third-of-a-mile stretch along the freeway.

How to best deal with Los Angeles’ homeless population has sparked increased debate in recent months, from calls for more police enforcement to building more affordable housing.

Residents watching the cleanup such as Wendy Riser, said they’ve heard that some of the homeless in those encampments at some point were residents of Highland Park, but ended up on the streets because of different situations such as loosing their jobs, increase of rent, mental illness or drugs.

Several homeless in Northeast L.A. neighborhoods like Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Eagle Rock and Cypress Park have ties to the community, including family and friends who live nearby.

That was the case last week when a young woman, seeing the clearing underway, ran to the encampment in search of her mother who she told police had been living there with a boyfriend.

She wanted to know if her mother was ok, explained LAPD Officer Oscar Cassini. It’s not uncommon for relatives to know that a loved one is living at one of the homeless encampments, to keep track of them there, he said.

Some people might find that shocking, but there are lots of reasons why someone can’t take in the homeless person, Cassini said, referring to cases of mental illness or heavy drug use.

The number of people in Los Angeles living in “tents, makeshift shelters, and vehicles increased by 85% from 2013” when the number was 5,335,to 9,535 today, according to the recently released results of LAHSA’s 2015 Homeless Countdown.

Skyrocketing housing costs are a big part of the problem, claim affordable housing advocates.

According to LAHSA’s report, California’s lowest-income households spend about two-thirds of their income on housing.

The 2014 USC Casden Forecast reported that as of December 2014, the average monthly rent in the Los Angeles region was $1,716, making L.A. one of the top 10 most expensive places to rent in the U.S.

Outreach staff sent to last week’s encampment clearing spoke with 18 men and 7 women but were unable to get them to accept services, LAHSA Spokesperson Eileen Bryson told EGP by email. “Most of the encamped homeless dwellers were preoccupied with managing their personal items during the clean up,” she said.

According to Officer Cassini, many refuse offers to be placed in a shelter because they don’t like to “follow the rules.”

“Some of them do drugs and in the shelters you can’t do that,” he said, moments after taking one of the homeless men into custody on an outstanding warrant.

Bryson said crews removed a large number of illegal and dangerous items such as 117 hypodermic needles, 50 aerosol cans and 17 propane tanks.

Animal Control Services remove three chickens and a cat, she said.

Caltrans had to disconnect power lines illegally connected to light poles along the 110 Freeway, providing electricity to 6 of the encampments, Bryson said.

A passerby walking his dog found the removal activity troubling. Moving the homeless will not solve the problem, it’s “just a band aid,” said Christopher. There must be a better solution.

Cleanup of other encampments between Via Marisol and Bridewell Street along the Arroyo Seco channel started this week should be finished today, according to Tokeshi.

Crews will remove “trash and bulky items, and when appropriate store property found in the cleanup area within the framework of the court decisions aimed at protecting individual rights,” he said.

The 2015 Homeless Count report from LAHSA found that there are 25,686 people in the City of Los Angeles with no homes. In CD1 there are nearly 2,000.

—-
Twitter @jackieguzman
jgarcia@egpnews.com

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.

 

EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

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