Is sleeping on the sidewalk a constitutionally protected right?

Tents lining a street in downtown L.A.
Tents lining a street in downtown L.A.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Dec. 6, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Does the United States Constitution guarantee the right of homeless people to sleep on the sidewalk? That’s the question the Supreme Court will be considering on Friday, as it weighs an appeal of a much-disputed ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit held that enforcing criminal laws against homeless people for living on the street was cruel and unusual punishment if a city couldn’t offer enough shelters as an alternative. The ruling struck down a Boise, Idaho, ordinance that made it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep on sidewalks, parks or other places without permission.

[Read the story: “Supreme Court confronts homeless crisis and whether there’s a right to sleep on the sidewalk” in the Los Angeles Times]

The original case: Boise v. Martin

The case began in 2009, when several individuals who had been cited or convicted under the Boise ordinance filed a complaint against the city, saying that the statute constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore violated their 8th Amendment rights. The case then made its way through the legal system for nearly a decade before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made its ruling in September 2018.


In a ruling that would have repercussions far beyond the Idaho city where the case originated, the appeals court unanimously overturned an earlier district court’s decision in favor of Boise. The 9th Circuit’s decision not only protected Boise’s homeless people from sleeping on the street when adequate shelter wasn’t available, but also did the same for homeless individuals in nine other western states where the court has jurisdiction, including California.

See also: “This city in Idaho is why L.A. can’t legally clear its streets of homeless encampments”

The role of California cities

Los Angeles is one of several California cities that have supported challenging the Boise ruling. Both the city and the county joined dozens of other municipalities in submitting an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.

[Read the story: “Homeless people could lose the right to sleep on sidewalks if western cities have their way” in the Los Angeles Times]

In addition to L.A., others in California who submitted briefs include Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno, Riverside and Orange counties, as well as a slew of cities, including Sacramento, Fullerton, Torrance and Newport Beach. The decisions to file or join amicus briefs set off political disputes across California, in which some elected officials, like Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, condemned the actions of their own cities or counties. (Steinberg opposed his city’s decision to ask the Supreme Court to take the case.)


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


State regulators have pulled the emergency brake on insurers fleeing California’s fire zones: Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced a one-year moratorium banning insurers from not renewing policies for homeowners in wildfire-ravaged areas of the state. As fires have grown increasingly destructive, the state has seen a corresponding exodus of insurers from the hardest-hit areas. Los Angeles Times

Soggy weather will continue in Southern California, with more rain and snow on the way. The rain convoy is continuing as a cold front from the Pacific Northwest begins to move into California. The northern part of the state is expected to see the first rain early Friday. The storm will roll into Southern California by Friday night and will linger across the state through Sunday, bringing widespread rain and snow, according to the National Weather Service. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles city officials won a key battle Thursday over a pair of local laws meant to ease the way for more housing for homeless people, defeating a challenge from a Venice group that sought to overturn the ordinances. Los Angeles Times


Father Gregory Boyle has an ambitious plan to expand Homeboy Industries. He wants to add a transitional housing facility intended for former gang members enrolled in Homeboy’s flagship 18-month training program. Los Angeles Times

An indicted USC senior associate athletic director ran a thriving side business that was tightly entwined with her duties at USC. USC Annenberg Media

Here are five spots in L.A. to get great khao soi this winter: “The northern Thai soup-noodle dish is made with coconut milk and laden with chewy boiled noodles, your choice of meat or tofu, and topped with crunchy fried noodles and cilantro.” L.A. Taco

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Bernie Sanders has moved ahead and and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden have lost ground in California’s shifting Democratic presidential contest. The California race remains extremely fluid. Los Angeles Times


Plus: Kamala Harris’ exit has left a void in California as rivals rush in. Los Angeles Times

The Trump administration has formally tightened work requirements for the federal food stamp program, probably meaning that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their benefits. Here’s why the move will have a disproportionate impact on one Central Valley county. Visalia Times-Delta

[Read our previous newsletter coverage on how proposed cuts to SNAP could affect the Central Valley.]


Bill Nye’s $28-million profit fight with Disney can go to trial, a judge has ruled. Los Angeles Times

Bill Nye, also known as the "Science Guy."
Bill Nye, also known as the “Science Guy.”
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)


Many Californians are turning to vending machines for safer water. Are they being swindled? The Guardian


Have we entered the era of drive-through cannabis shops? They are technically forbidden under state law, but this Desert Hot Springs dispensary navigated through a loophole to open Southern California’s first drive-through pot shop. Desert Sun

California’s economic growth will slow next year, but it is likely to outshine that of the nation overall, as Golden State employers boost payrolls, according to a new UCLA Anderson School forecast. Los Angeles Times

Can a beloved local cheese company survive foreclosure? Even the region’s congressman is trying to help Loleta Cheese Factory. Lost Coast Outpost


Need a job? Tahoe ski resorts are scrambling to hire early-season help after the big Thanksgiving storm brought nearly 80 inches of snow to some mountains. San Francisco Chronicle

This Healdsburg nonprofit opened a free “store” for those whose lives were disrupted by the Kincade fire. The building is stocked with thousands of items — from clothing to strollers to flashlights, diapers and toiletries, all free of charge. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

This 26-year-old San Diego author has been compared to J.K. Rowling. Meet Tomi Adeyemi. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 69. San Diego: cloudy, 67. San Francisco: rain, 62. San Jose: rain, 64. Sacramento: rain, 63. More weather is here.



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— -Michelangelo Antonioni on Los Angeles

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Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.