L.A. Council to consider settlement over alleged campaign to discard skid row property

The city of Los Angeles is poised to settle a lawsuit accusing police of conspiring with private security officers to seize property that homeless people leave on skid row sidewalks, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, alleged that police alerted public safety officers with the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District about where and when homeless people’s property was left unattended, stood guard as it was seized and threatened arrest if anyone tried to interfere. The city and the business improvement district denied the allegations in court documents.

The City Council is set to consider the settlement agreement Wednesday. The city’s lawyers wrote the court on June 5 that the city would approve the agreement within the month, according to a document in the court file.

The lawsuit was brought by four homeless people and two skid row groups — Los Angeles Catholic Worker and Los Angeles Community Action Network — against the city, the improvement district and Central City East Assn., the district’s administrator.

The suit said that after courts barred the city from illegally destroying homeless people’s property, it turned to the private officers to confiscate belongings owners temporarily left behind while they used the restroom, got a meal or received medical care.

Under the proposed settlement, the Central City East Assn. agreed not to take or destroy property, including tents, shopping carts, bicycles and wheelchairs, from sidewalks or other public places unless it is near doorways or loading docks, or impeding disabled people.

Officers can remove abandoned belongings, trash, furniture, mattresses and other bulky items if they give written notice and store the belongings for 90 days for retrieval. The city has adopted similar protocols to comply with court rulings.

Central City East also agreed to pay $25,000 to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which led the homeless plaintiffs’ legal team. The agreement was signed in March by attorneys for Central City East, the Legal Aid Foundation and U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez.

“This is going to make it so those previously subjected to unchecked property seizures by the [business association] will have a mechanism to turn to to enforce their rights,” said attorney Fernando Gaytan of the legal aid group.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the city cannot comment until the settlement is final. Estela Lopez, executive director of Central City East Assn., did not return a phone message.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the city has stepped up skid row cleanups. Catherine Morris, a longtime member of Los Angeles Catholic Worker, said sanitation workers accompanied by police continue to confiscate shopping carts that her group provides homeless people to carry their possessions.

Morris also said workers at her group’s skid row soup kitchen recently watched an LAPD officer stop a homeless person from interfering as sanitation workers, over the man’s objections, hauled away his dirt bike.

“The carts have not been returned for about four months,” Morris said. “We just paid $6,800 to have 100 new carts delivered.”

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gholland@latimes.com

Twitter: @geholland

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