Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Attorneys said Wednesday they may take legal action if Los Angeles city leaders fail to rescind a recently adopted ordinance that makes it easier and faster for the city to dismantle homeless encampments and confiscate transients’ belongings.

Attorneys for the Los Angeles Community Action Network — a Skid Row- based organization that advocates for low-income and homeless people — sent a 17-page letter on Tuesday to city officials detailing their concerns about the ordinance, which they say is “unconstitutional” and contains the “same legal defects” of an earlier law that was struck down in court.

The measure shortened the noticing period from 72 hours to 24 hours before belongings on sidewalks and other public areas can be confiscated and imposes criminal penalties for non-compliance.

“We urge you to withdraw the ordinance and avoid subjecting the city to ongoing legal liability,” attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson and Public Counsel wrote.

The letter was sent to Councilmen Jose Huizar and Maqueence Harris-Dawn, co-chairs of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, which was meeting Wednesday to discuss proposed amendments to the ordinance.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, said the office is “currently analyzing the letter.”

The ordinance was adopted by the City Council earlier this year and went into effect in July without Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature.

LACAN activists urged Garcetti to veto the ordinance, but the mayor responded that he had assurances from the City Council that it would amend the measure. He also said he instructed city officials to suspend enforcement of the law until the amendments are in place.

The activists maintain that Garcetti has limited authority to put enforcement on hold, and LACAN’s attorneys said today the proposed amendments now being considered will not sufficiently improve the ordinance.

The ordinance “is unconstitutional and the proposed amendments do nothing to change that fact,” LACAN’s attorneys wrote. “The City Council should reconsider and rescind its passage of the ordinance as soon as possible and consider means to address the problem that are humane as well as constitutional.”

The attorneys contend the law will lead to the “unreasonable” seizure of personal belongings, and a “proposed amendment removing specific reference in the definition of ‘Personal Property’ to ‘personal items such as luggage, backpacks, clothing, documents and medication, and household items’ will have absolutely no legal effect.”

“Such items will still constitute ‘tangible property’ and personal property as that term is understood in our laws,” the attorneys wrote, adding that the ordinance would also allow “the confiscation of medication and critical documents.”

“By seizing those possessions, the city affirmatively places homeless people in danger and exposes itself to danger-creation liability,” according to the attorneys, who also maintain that provisions for notifying people before items are confiscated are “constitutionally deficient.”

The ordinance would make failing to comply with the ordinance “even when compliance is impossible” a criminal act, the attorneys say, and would also lead to “severe consequences for immigrants, in particular for those otherwise eligible to seek deferred action for childhood arrivals (‘DACA’); family members of citizens and permanent residents seeking adjustment of status; and applicants for naturalization.”

— City News Service 

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