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City of L.A. asks court to toss out lawsuit seeking skid row clearance

A man sits in a chair next to mounds of clothes on the sidewalk.
A man who goes by the name Big O sits next to mounds of clothes on a sidewalk on skid row.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The city of Los Angeles filed a motion on Wednesday seeking dismissal of what it called a “misguided” lawsuit that attempts to compel local government to provide shelter to thousands of homeless people living on downtown sidewalks and next to freeways.

Lawyers for the city argue that while homelessness is “among the greatest challenges facing our region,” efforts to address it through the lawsuit filed in federal court last year against the city and county are misplaced.

The L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, which brought the suit, wrongfully asked the court to “ignore fundamental principles of federalism and separation of powers, and to intrude into the city’s handling of complex policy issues that should be addressed by the elected city leaders, not the court,” city attorneys wrote in the 25-page motion.

“Indeed, as plaintiffs acknowledge, the city’s leaders have already devoted great efforts, money, and resources to address homelessness, and the city has only increased those efforts in recent years.”

The city further argues that the L.A. Alliance — a coalition of downtown business owners and residents, including homeless people — has failed to prove any of its claims, including the notion that homeless encampments have been allowed to persist in certain parts of the city, such as skid row, Venice and under the 405 Freeway, more than in other areas.

A plan for how to solve Venice’s homeless crisis has emerged from behind-the-scenes talks among a coalition of Venice activists, city officials and deputies of the area’s city councilman.

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Los Angeles city attorneys also contend that the plaintiffs have not proved their claim that $1.2 billion in voter-approved Proposition HHH funds have been “wasted” because of a focus on permanent housing rather than the interim solutions the L.A. Alliance contends would be cheaper and a better use of money.

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 9 in Los Angeles federal court to discuss the city’s dismissal motion.

Meanwhile, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments next month on the city and county’s attempt to freeze a judge’s order that local government must offer housing opportunities to the entire population of skid row by mid-October.

In April, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter issued the injunction ordering that the skid row housing effort must begin with offers to all single women and unaccompanied children living on downtown streets. The city and county immediately requested that the appeals court issue a stay pending appeal.

The city and county of L.A. may have a strong case as they seek to overturn a sweeping order requiring them to offer shelter to everyone on skid row.

A May 27 hearing in Carter’s courtroom explored the role of racism as the driving force behind the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. The city and county then filed papers arguing that racism is beside the point of the L.A. Alliance lawsuit, which does not allege a constitutional violation on the basis of race.

Instead of clarifying the issues, Carter’s racism hearing “amplified, rather than mitigated, the need for a stay pending appeal,” the appellants wrote.

At the May hearing, Carter urged the city and county to begin immediate settlement talks to resolve the lawsuit— or adhere to his timetable for offering shelter to the homeless population of skid row.


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