Thursday, September 21, 2006
City Council Rejects Proposed Skid Row Settlement With ACLU
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles City Council yesterday rejected a proposed settlement of the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles over arrests of homeless people on Skid Row pursuant to a long-standing municipal ordinance, the city clerk said.
Acting on a motion by Councilwoman Jan Perry in a closed meeting, the city’s legislative and policymaking body voted 10-3 to reject the settlement and to appeal the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling this April in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 04-55324.
Council members in favor of the motion were Ed P. Reyes of the First District; Wendy Gruel of the Second District; Dennis P. Zine of the Third District; Alex Padilla of the Seventh District; Bernard C. Parks of the Eighth District; Herb J. Wesson Jr. of the Tenth District; Greig Smith of the Twelfth District; and Janice Hahn of the Fifteenth District.
Councilmen Jack Weiss of the Fifth District, Bill Rosendahl of the Eleventh District, and Jose Huizar of the Fourteenth District voted against the motion.
Petition For Rehearing
City lawyers had negotiated the proposed settlement with the ACLU after several closed sessions of court-ordered mediation following the Jones decision, in which the court held 2-1 that enforcing Los Angeles Municipal Code Sec. 41.18(d) against individuals who are sleeping on the streets involuntarily, due to factors out of their control such as lack of shelter beds, violated the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ordinance, which has been on the books since 1918, imposes fines of up to $1,000 and jail sentences of up to six months for sitting, lying, or sleeping in or on any street, sidewalk or other public way.
A spokesperson for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said that in addition to petitioning for a rehearing on its appeal, the council has asked the office to draft guidelines that will help the Los Angeles Police Dept. to enforce Sec. 41.18(d) without violating the Constitution in the interim.
ACLU Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum, who argued Jones on appeal, told the MetNews the proposed settlement would have permitted daytime and limited nighttime enforcement of Sec. 41.18(d) in exchange for the city relinquishing its right to appeal, and would have paved the way for a more enduring social solution to the problem of homelessness. Criminalizing homeless people would aggravate the social problem, he said.
“It’s unprecedented that a settlement after three months of negotiation that was endorsed by a federal mediator, the chief of police, the mayor, and a city attorney, has now been rejected by the city council, such that the city of Los Angeles is the only city in the U.S. that criminalizes its homeless population,” Rosenbaum said. “Every other major city’s answer to homelessness is that it’s a social problem, not a criminal problem.”
The attorney said the council’s decision reflected interests of downtown businesses, whose concern was not in helping the homeless but in making them vanish.
But Perry told the MetNews that she and her colleagues acted out of deep concern for people living on Skid Row.
“Everybody is very, very committed to helping people get help. I think it doesn’t give the issue the dignity it deserves to marginalize it,” she said. “This was never about criminalizing homeless people. That is an interpretation that was very much off base. This was about upholding efforts to provide support for a community that is struggling for recovery, and to show this community the same respect that you would show anybody in another community.”
Perry said her main concern was making sure that the Ninth Circuit’s decision did not remain on the books as precedent, but she was otherwise “very flexible” and would continue talking with the ACLU regarding protocols for enforcing the law on Skid Row.
Skid Row covers approximately 50 blocks immediately east of downtown Los Angeles and is bordered by Third Street to the north, Seventh Street to the south, Alameda Street to the east, and Main street to the west.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company