LOCAL L.A. Now

Court refuses to allow L.A. to cart off homeless' belongings

A long-running dispute over a controversial cleanup campaign on downtown's skid row ended Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused the city of Los Angeles' request to lift a ban on destroying property left unattended by homeless people.

The court, without comment, left standing a lower-court order that prevents city workers and police from disposing of the contents of shopping carts that homeless people leave behind temporarily while using a restroom, filling water jugs or lining up for meals.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich had argued the ban posed a public health hazard by making it impossible for the city to clean public streets and sidewalks on skid row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

Attorney Carol Sobel, who represented the homeless plaintiffs, said the city is cleaning the streets now "with no problem."

"The city could find no evidence of a public health crisis," she said. "The thing they should do is provide housing for the people."  

The suit was brought by eight homeless people who accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and dumping their personal possessions -- including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries. Advocates say police at one point were bringing in skip loaders  to mow down rows of belongings.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that transients' possessions could be taken only if they posed an immediate threat to public health or were evidence of a crime. The order also requires the city to give owners a chance to reclaim their things before they are destroyed.

Sobel noted that the city can still clear abandoned property, or remove possessions that pose an imminent threat to public health or safety. The Central City East Assn., a nonprofit business group, since 2002 has run a storage center on skid row for homeless people to store their belongings. The city last year added 500 plastic trash bins to the center's existing 600 containers. 

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Twitter: @geholland

gale.holland@latimes.com

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