The city of Los Angeles will not be allowed to remove property of homeless people in a designated area of Skid Row and will pay $645,000 under a lawsuit settlement agreement finalized Wednesday in federal court.
The City Council voted 12-2 last Friday to settle the case, Carl Mitchell v. Los Angeles, Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Jose Huizar dissenting.
“The Mitchell settlement will only perpetuate the public health crisis that already exists in Skid Row and will set a precedent for the rest of the city that will normalize encampments,” Buscaino said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “The city is sending a clear signal that we are turning the sidewalks in Skid Row into free, unlimited public storage, doing a disservice to the residents of Los Angeles, especially to those living on the streets.”
Calls to the attorney for the plaintiffs were not immediately returned.
Per the settlement, the city for three years must let people know both 24 hours and 30 minutes before a cleanup is to take place and must not seize property of those who choose to reside on the streets within the borders of Second Street to the north, Eighth Street to the south, Spring Street to the west and Alameda Street to the east. The city will also not be allowed to conduct cleanups when it is colder than 50 degrees outside or when it’s raining.
Large items, such as couches, mattresses, dressers, or other similarly-sized or larger furniture and cooking appliances of more than a few pounds and open-flame devices are still prohibited. The city is still able to remove items that are deemed abandoned, present an immediate threat to public health or safety, are crime evidence or contraband.
Property that is seized under the belief that the item isn’t considered contraband or criminal evidence will be held for 90 days for people to recover.
The settlement funds are to be used to pay damages claimed in the suit, as well as the defendants’ attorneys fees and associated costs.
Los Angeles has long struggled with how to clean up and regulate homeless encampments and in 2016 passed a law limiting the amount of belongings a homeless person can store on the sidewalk to 60 gallons. But in response to the lawsuit, a federal judge issued an injunction barring Los Angeles police and sanitation officers from seizing and destroying homeless people’s property in and near Skid Row. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero’s injunction also ordered the city to segregate and store impounded belongings where they can be recovered.
The increased regulation has led to an escalation in the size of homeless encampments on Skid Row, where thousands of homeless people congregate.
Buscaino pointed to the federal court ruling as being partly responsible for a typhus outbreak at City Hall earlier this year, since it has led to a significant increase in homeless encampments in downtown.
“That injunction is prohibiting our outreach workers from getting to our most vulnerable homeless population in and around the downtown area. So rats are a symbol of this injunction,” Buscaino said in voting against a settlement along with Huizar, who represents the Skid Row area.
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