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Settlement in Homeless Belongings Suit Refused

Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana city officials have tried unsuccessfully to settle a suit aimed at stopping city workers from throwing away homeless people’s belongings found at parks and at the Civic Center.

In the settlement proposed by City Atty. Edward J. Cooper, city officials offered free storage of property that “appears to have some value and has a readily visible identification tag” in a metal container at the park. Under the proposal, property thought to be worth more than $10 would be kept for four months, while belongings worth less than $10 would be kept for 30 days.

Lawyers for the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the city to stop its practice of discarding belongings found in city parks and at the Civic Center, rejected the offer Tuesday.

Legal Aid director Robert Cohen said he objected to it for a number of reasons. First, he said, the proposed storage site is not within walking distance of the Civic Center, where his homeless clients sleep. Second, he said, the site was more like a dumpster than a lost and found depository. And third, Cohen said, he does not trust city workers to decide the value of the belongings they find, especially since city officials persist in calling it trash.

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“The offer the city has made would not make it any better than it is now,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to litigate this matter unless there’s a miracle.”

Last week, Legal Aid and the ACLU won a temporary restraining order against the city barring maintenance crews from throwing away homeless people’s unattended property. The order required park workers to take all belongings worth more than $10 to the Police Department’s lost and found area.

Since the city launched a cleanup crusade at the end of May, park workers have been throwing away the bedrolls, clothes and food they find.

Cooper said the city will implement a policy almost identical to the proposed settlement, even though Legal Aid and the ACLU rejected it.

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On Tuesday, Cooper said, City Manager David N. Ream ordered cleanup crews to store “any items that appear to have any value” and that have visible identification tags at Centennial Park for two weeks. Any unclaimed items worth more than $10 will then be taken to the Police Department’s lost and found depository.

“This is more than we are required to do by law,” Cooper said.


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