"Wednesday will be very crucial. I hope they decide to vote in favor of this," Bratton said. "[I am] only as effective as tools I get to work with."

He called the situation "a very significant impendent to dealing with the problem down there."

After the ruling, the court allowed both sides to enter federal mediation to settle their differences.

The agreement, completed during several closed-door mediation sessions over the last month, has been the subject of lobbying among City Council members in the last few days.

Councilman Jack Weiss said the agreement is crucial to the city's moving forward to fix skid row's many ills.

"If the ACLU and LAPD have reached an agreement, it would be foolish for the council not to follow suit," said Weiss, who represents parts of the Westside and Valley.

"After all," he said, "if the council continues to appeal, the process would take years, and during those years, the LAPD wouldn't be able to enforce the law on skid row. That would be disastrous."

But Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., said her organization would oppose any compromise that allowed homeless people to set up camps and sleep on the streets at any time.

She said such rules would set a dangerous precedent and worsen the crime and filth that plague the area.

"What they are saying to people in this business district is there will be an open-air drug market outside," she said. "People coming to these businesses will be afraid."

When Bratton took office in 2002, he vowed to apply the same "broken windows" theory of law enforcement to skid row that he successfully used in New York's Times Square when he was chief of that city's Police Department in the early 1990s.

But the department slowed its efforts after the ACLU filed its lawsuit in 2003.

Some of the region's top political leaders, including Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, have vowed in the last several months to make skid row a top priority. The area has long had the largest concentration of homeless people in the Western United States and is the site of about 20% of all drug arrests in the city.

The focus on skid row has also coincided with a boom in residential development downtown, with luxury lofts and condos rising on the fringes of the district.

Bratton said the compromise would allow the city to move forward immediately with a cleanup plan rather than spend years sitting by as appeals continue.

"If we wait two more years, the area is gone," the chief said.

The LAPD is about to deploy 50 more officers to the skid row area, hoping to crack down on street crime and drug sales.

Legislators are pushing a package of bills designed to help skid row, including a $150,000 pilot program in Los Angeles County Superior Court for probation supervision and treatment of nonviolent offenders with mental health problems, substance abuse problems or both.

The legislation would also require municipalities to devise plans to help their homeless populations rather than dump them in other areas where treatment programs already exist.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to the establishment of five centers across the county that would provide temporary shelter for transients, a bid to reduce the concentration of homeless services in skid row.

Bratton said Monday that settling the ACLU suit won't by itself solve skid row's ills. Policing will work, he said, only if it is combined with more social services and long-term shelter for the homeless.

"We are not the solution to the problems of skid row," Bratton said. "It is a much larger social and societal issue."

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richard.winton@latimes.com