Judge rejects L.A. County’s revamped homeless settlement

U.S. District Court judge David O. Carter tours skid row with an LAPD officer
U.S. District Court judge David O. Carter tours skid row with LAPD Officer Deon Joseph on April 3, 2020.
(Myung J. Chun/ Los Angeles Times)

A frustrated federal judge once again refused to sign off on an agreement that would have ended a long-running lawsuit over the government response to the homeless crisis, criticizing Los Angeles County officials for bringing him a settlement he felt the court had no way to enforce.

It was the second time in recent months county leaders have appeared in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter with an agreement they hoped would put to rest a years-long legal battle with the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of downtown residents and business groups that sued the city and county at the start of the pandemic arguing they had failed the region’s homeless population.

And it’s the second time in recent months Carter has said it’s not good enough.

There was a sense of groundhog day in Carter’s courtroom Thursday as he detailed the same problems with this second settlement that he had with the first: too few beds to meet the need and no way to hold the county accountable.


“You give me absolutely no oversight and you give me no enforcement,” said Carter, as he prepared to send the county and the Alliance back to negotiate for a third time.

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Mira Hashmall, an attorney hired by the county for the case, said in a statement the county was “deeply disappointed” and believed, by denying the agreement, the judge was exerting power he did not possess.

“The court has no authority to reject a settlement that was fairly negotiated — and in this case re-negotiated — in good faith between the respective parties,” she said. “The court’s decision today will keep the County and Plaintiffs tied up in needless and costly litigation instead of allowing them to move forward with a historic settlement to provide another $850.5 million for new programs and services to people experiencing homelessness.”

County officials first announced a settlement with the L.A. Alliance in September that would have nearly doubled the number of outreach teams serving people with severe mental illness and added 300 substance use and mental health beds, among other investments aimed at helping the region’s most vulnerable residents. After Carter urged the two parties to “do better,” the parties returned this week with an agreement that would have provided an extra 700 new mental health and substance use disorder beds, bringing the total number of these types of beds to 1,000.

The agreement would also have required the county to make available 450 new subsidies for beds in residential facilities used primarily by people with severe mental illness who are at risk of homelessness.

The revised agreement specifies that the county would open 610 beds this year, 300 by June 30 and 310 more by Dec. 31. The remaining 390 would be spread over another two years.

Both the county and the L.A. Alliance told the judge Thursday they were satisfied with the terms of the agreement and believed, while it wouldn’t be enough to fix the homelessness crisis, it should be enough to resolve the lawsuit.


“From the alliance’s perspective, we need to be clear,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, an attorney who represents the L.A. Alliance. “We need to move forward now. We cannot keep waiting and let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Carter was unswayed.

“I’ve got grave reservations if this is good,” he said.

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While the county touted the creation of roughly 1,500 beds for people with mental illness and substance abuse issues as part of a “historic” settlement, Carter said he felt that number represented the “bare minimum.” L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian, who spoke on behalf of the city at the hearing, similarly noted that while the bed totals showed progress, he felt it would amount to only “incremental improvement” in the region’s homeless crisis.

The judge pointed to a 2019 report by the county’s former mental health director, which said the county may need to fund around 3,000 additional beds for people with mental health issues. The need has likely grown since then.

[The beds] shouldn’t even be a bargaining chip between the two of you. The county should have done this years ago without even coming in front of the federal court,” said Carter. “For goodness’ sake, this comes from your own mental health director.”

The judge also said he wanted to see oversight provisions in the county’s agreement similar to what was in the agreement the city of Los Angeles hammered out with the L.A. Allianceand Carter approved last April to resolve their portion of the lawsuit. That agreement, which committed the city to opening thousands of new beds, said the court had five years to oversee the agreement.

For the record:

9:30 p.m. April 20, 2023An earlier version of this report said an agreement between the city of Los Angeles and L.A. Alliance committed the county to open more beds. The agreement applies to the city.

“You get me the same paragraph the city has … we’ll talk,” said Carter. “I’m not bargaining with you.”

The parties are scheduled to appear in court again on May 9.