L.A. drops appeal of ban on taking homeless people’s property

A sanitation worker washes down the sidewalk at 6th Street and Gladys Avenue during a skid row cleanup effort in 2012.
A sanitation worker washes down the sidewalk at 6th Street and Gladys Avenue during a skid row cleanup effort in 2012.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The city of Los Angeles is dropping an appeal of a court ruling banning the seizure and destruction of property that homeless people leave unattended on public sidewalks, Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said Monday.

Feuer’s decision ends three years of legal wrangling over health and safety on skid row. Eight skid row residents filed suit in 2011, accusing city workers, accompanied by police, of confiscating and dumping their personal possessions -- medication, identification, cellphones and toiletries.

City officials said homeless shopping carts, tents and blankets spawned filth and vermin and were used to hide illicit drug use and crime.


Full coverage: Fighting for Skid Row

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the confiscations violated homeless people’s 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable seizures. The belongings could be taken only if they posed an immediate public health threat or were evidence of a crime, the ruling said.

The city repeatedly sought to appeal or modify the decision, but lost several rounds in court, most recently last June. Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, who represented the skid row residents, said the city failed to do anything meaningful during the long legal struggle to reduce the numbers of people on skid row or improve their living conditions.

“We’re three years out from when the case was filed, and the city hasn’t done anything to address the problem and provide support on skid row,” Sobel said.

“And the situation is getting worse,” she added, citing federal cutbacks in transitional housing and shelter funds.

The city has expanded free storage bins for homeless people in downtown Los Angeles and Venice. Several deep-cleaning operations were launched downtown and in Venice, especially after the county cited the city for serious hygiene issues on skid row.

But skid row social service providers said the efforts fell short.

“There’s no way they would allow this in any other neighborhood,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, who runs the Union Rescue Mission, a skid row shelter.

Raquel Beard, executive director of Central City East Assn., a downtown business group, agreed skid row enforcement against dumping and biohazards has been inadequate, but she was “hopeful this is a step toward cleaner sidewalks for sheltered and unsheltered people.”

Feuer declined to comment. Sobel said the city did not have a settlement agreement with her clients.

Twitter: @geholland