Newsletter: Supreme Court declines to hear Boise case, in victory for homeless advocates

A homeless encampment near the 101 Freeway and Alvarado Street in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 17, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a victory to homeless advocates and dealt a setback to Western cities trying to regulate encampments on sidewalks.

The news came by way of a non-decision: The high court refused to hear City of Boise vs. Martin, a landmark case on homelessness.

This outcome means that the challenged ruling from a federal appeals court — which found that it was unconstitutional to punish people for sleeping on the sidewalk when there aren’t enough shelter beds or housing available as an alternative — will remain the law of the land in California and eight other western states, at least for now.

[See also: Supreme Court leaves cities with only one option on homelessness: Build more housing in the Los Angeles Times]

The city and county of Los Angeles, along with dozens of other local governments, had urged the court to hear a challenge to the case. The prior decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has prevented cities and counties from sending law enforcement to enforce ordinances to shoo away homeless people or to clear their encampments.


Here’s what all this means for L.A. and California, according to my colleague assistant Metro editor Erika D. Smith, who oversees The Times’ housing and homelessness coverage:

[Read the full story: “Supreme Court decision on homeless case is a blow to cities wanting more policing powers” in the Los Angeles Times]

How did this happen?

Last year’s ruling in the Boise case essentially turned what was supposed to be a stopgap arrangement in Los Angeles into a sweeping and open-ended curb on police powers.

In 2007, the city of L.A. stopped putting people in jail for sleeping in the streets as part of a court settlement known as the Jones agreement, which halted police enforcement of laws barring encampments in public spaces until the city could build more housing for homeless people.

That settlement came the year after a previous ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found L.A.’s sweeps of encampments on skid row were cruel and unusual punishment. Then in 2018, the federal appeals court issued a similar ruling in the case out of Boise, setting up the push for a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why is this a big deal for Los Angeles?

It essentially leaves in place the status quo — meaning L.A. and other cities cannot prevent people from sleeping outdoors on public property when there aren’t enough shelter beds available.

Los Angeles County has nearly 60,000 homeless people, most of them living on the streets in encampments, which pop up faster than city sanitation crews can dismantle them. The city and county, like much of California, where rents have skyrocketed, haven’t been able to build housing or shelters fast enough to keep up with demand.

Are there any other options?

Other than dramatically scaling up new shelters and housing, there aren’t many other options under the existing legal framework laid out in the Boise ruling and now solidified by the Supreme Court.

But co-chairs of the governor’s task force on homelessness, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, are discussing a possible statewide ballot measure that would create a legal “right to shelter” or “right to housing.”

Such a plan, though still vague, would mean requiring cities and counties to provide enough shelter beds for any homeless person who wants to come indoors. It also could force homeless people to accept shelter if offered.

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


Waters off the California coast are acidifying twice as fast as the global average, scientists found, threatening major fisheries and sounding the alarm that the ocean can absorb only so much more of the world’s carbon emissions. Los Angeles Times

The U.S. is preparing to send adults and families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to Honduras, even if they are not from the Central American country. This would also effectively end their chances of seeking asylum in the United States. Earlier this year, the administration reached a similar agreement with Guatemala to take asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, even if they were not Guatemalan. Los Angeles Times


Earl C. Paysinger, a pillar of the Los Angeles Police Department and a respected leader in South L.A. who was credited with driving down crime by focusing on community partnerships, died Monday. He was 64. Los Angeles Times

Strong winds are forecast to continue through Tuesday evening for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Los Angeles Times

Fashion Nova’s ugly secret: The online retailer makes fast fashion for the Instagram elite, but many of its garments are made by underpaid workers in L.A. factories. New York Times

ICM Partners has laid off about half a dozen agents as the Hollywood talent agency and its rivals are grappling with a months-long standoff with the Writers Guild of America. Los Angeles Times

Jeff Shell will become chief executive of NBCUniversal in January. Shell, a Los Angeles native, has been in charge of NBCUniversal’s West Coast properties, including NBC Entertainment and Universal Pictures, for nearly a year. Los Angeles Times

A guide to the essential Los Angeles cookbooks, in case you still have some holiday shopping to do. LAist

How Rosa Porto created the most beloved bakery in all of Los Angeles: An appreciation of Rosa Porto, who died Friday at 89, creator of one of the most beloved food institutions in Los Angeles. In one of her last interviews, she and her daughter Margarita Navarro spoke about the origins of Porto’s Bakery & Cafe. Los Angeles Times

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A San Diego State University librarian has collected more than 1,700 letters from detained migrants. The mostly handwritten letters detail poor conditions inside the detention centers and shed light on events driving migration to the United States. “In 20, 30, or 40 years, or even longer down the road, when researchers are researching this time in U.S. history, I think these letters are going to be invaluable,” the librarian said. Los Angeles Times


The California bullet train authority is moving ahead with an aggressive plan to issue its biggest contract in history, steering into sharp criticism by federal regulators and even the state-appointed peer review panel that it is overreaching. Los Angeles Times

Television viewers in Southern California can hardly miss the ads promoting Michael R. Bloomberg for president this holiday season — he’s spending millions to make sure of it. The billionaire’s advertising for California’s March 3 election is unprecedented for a Democratic presidential primary. Los Angeles Times

It’s a boy! And a boy and a girl. Congratulations to Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, who just became the state’s first legislator to have triplets while in office. According to her office, Cervantes is the fourth state legislator to give birth while serving, and the first openly LGBT legislator to do so. Los Angeles Times

Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) talks with Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) during floor session at the state Capitol in August.
(Robert Gourley/Los Angeles Times)


A Chinese woman was sentenced to 10 months in prison for running a “birth tourism” operation that helped pregnant women in China lie on visa forms and to immigration authorities so they could travel to Southern California to give birth to children who would automatically have U.S. citizenship. Los Angeles Times


Fire-starting weed or ecological scapegoat? The battle over California’s eucalyptus trees, explained in comic-book form. The Guardian


Gender diversity is on the elementary school lesson plan in suburban Ventura County. Administrators in the Oak Park school district are teaching students about “Casey,” a boy who likes to wear glitter and skirts as part of a lesson about the complexities of gender. The topic sparked an explosion of controversy. Los Angeles Times

Vox Media has cut ties with hundreds of freelance writers and editors for SB Nation’s California-based sports blogs ahead of a new California labor law taking effect Jan. 1. Los Angeles Times

“Saturday Night Live” thinks people in San Francisco live in stucco tract houses with two-car garages. A San Francisco-set segment in the show’s cold open was ... less than accurate in depicting what San Francisco residences look like. SF Gate

More national press for the “Bakersfield boom”: This time focusing on the growing field of startups in the Central Valley city, along with the resources to sustain them. Inc.

How working at SFO has changed in the last 40 years, according to a woman who has spent four decades as a bartender at a San Francisco airport restaurant. SF Gate


Los Angeles: cloudy, 66. San Diego: sunny, 65. San Francisco: cloudy, 57. San Jose: cloudy, 61. Sacramento: cloudy, 54. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Susan Bruns:

“I remember walking down the streets of Fresno and picking up cotton bolls as they flew off the trucks passing by. On Sundays we would drive to Yosemite, Bass Lake or Kings Canyon after church. It seemed like such an ordinary thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. I’ll never forget the thrill each time we drove through the tunnel to have Half Dome suddenly appear before us. It was magic and I guess still is. California in the ‘50s lives on in my dreams.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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.