No Skid Row Accord for City, ACLU

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles officials and the American Civil Liberties Union failed to reach an agreement Monday on a lawsuit that would prevent the LAPD from arresting homeless people for camping on public sidewalks.

A court-ordered meeting on Monday was designed to forge a compromise on an issue that appears to be complicating the efforts by the Los Angeles Police Department to crack down on crime in skid row.

In April, a federal appeals court ruled in the ACLU's favor, and since then the numbers of tents on skid row sidewalks have multiplied while the number of arrests have dropped so far this year by about 23%.

Elizabeth Brennan, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Southern California, said the mediation meeting did not resolve all the differences and that another session has been tentatively slated for Sept. 8. Brennan said she could not comment on the terms of the discussions.

The court-ordered mediation was intended to forge a compromise — something that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the sides were "pretty close" to reaching before Monday's session.

Both Police Chief William J. Bratton and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo vowed to fight the ACLU suit, saying it would be difficult to clean up skid row otherwise.

One point on which the police, city officials and others have disagreed is the nature of the city ordinance at issue in the ACLU case. The law prohibits people from sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks. The ACLU challenged implementation of the ordinance during nighttime hours, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Judge Kim Wardlaw, who wrote the majority decision, said that because there were not adequate shelter beds to accommodate all of the city's estimated 48,000 homeless, such enforcement was a violation of the 8th Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

Before the court decision, police used the ordinance mostly during the day, allowing people to sleep in tents or on the streets at night as long as they were packed up by morning. But since the ruling, officers are not enforcing the ordinance at any hour.

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