L.A.’s voided law against sleeping in cars costs it $1.1 million in legal fees

Workers from a multi-agency task force clean up a homeless encampment in Venice in June.

Workers from a multi-agency task force clean up a homeless encampment in Venice in June.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The city of Los Angeles agreed Wednesday to pay $1.1 million to lawyers who successfully challenged a municipal ordinance prohibiting homeless people from sleeping in their vehicles.

The payout comes as the city continues to press new enforcement laws against homeless encampments that have spread into residential neighborhoods over the last two years.

Lawyers have warned that the new laws, which make it easier to dismantle camps and dispose of homeless people’s property, are unconstitutional.


Attorney Carol Sobel said the fee payout is one of a half-dozen agreements the city has reached with lawyers who brought civil rights challenges to police crackdowns on homeless people.

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“They never learn,” said Sobel, who will share the newly awarded fees with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and two other lawyers. “Instead of having money to spend on addressing the real problem of homelessness they are constantly feeding money into the bottomless pit of police suppression.”

A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer said he declined comment.

The vehicle-dwelling case was filed on behalf of a group of homeless people, including several disabled individuals, over a 2010 police crackdown on 250 people who began sleeping in their cars and motor homes on Venice streets at the height of the recession, Sobel said.

A federal appeals court last year struck down the ban, ruling it was unconstitutionally vague and an invitation to discriminate against the poor. The court said the ordinance could have been enforced against people for napping or keeping food in their car, including road trippers or tourists.


“The city of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens,” 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in the decision. “Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.”

In March, Feuer proposed a new vehicle-dwelling ordinance with a tighter focus that he said could pass court muster. Feuer also suggested that the city institute a limited permit process to allow car camping on nonresidential streets.

The city still faces an attorney fee claim in the case of an activist arrested during a noisy skid row protest, Sobel said. The federal appeals court ruled that the arrest by the LAPD was improper.

A fee claim also is outstanding in an appellate case concerning homeless people’s belongings. The court ruled in that case that police violated homeless people’s constitutional rights by seizing and destroying their property, also on skid row.

Twitter: @geholland


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