Shops and visitors along the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
Shops and visitors along the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

The City Council approved a $1.1 million payment Wednesday to resolve a lawsuit filed on behalf of four homeless people in the Venice area who were cited or arrested as part of a 2010 crackdown on people living in their cars in the beach-side community.

Carol Sobel, the attorney who challenged the law that served as the premise for the crackdown, said she plans to use proceeds from the settlement to challenge future and existing laws targeting homeless people in the city.

The settlement is “a good result for us,” Sobel told City News Service. “It allows us to mount a challenge to the next, newly enacted restrictions and criminalizations that the city seems hell-bent on passing.”

City attorneys have drawn up draft language to replace the 1983 law against living in cars, which was struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2014. The proposed new law is expected to be taken up by the City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice, urged his colleagues Wednesday to try a different approach to the issue of homeless people living in their cars.

If the city decides to “try to find another way to tell people they can’t live in their vehicles,” such as passing laws to replace the one that was struck down, “we’re going to wind up paying Carol Sobel another million dollars or so,” said Bonin, who noted that the heightened enforcement of the law in 2010 occurred before he took office.

He suggested the city could follow Santa Barbara’s example by setting up a “safe parking program” in which a lot is set aside where people can park their cars as long as “they are enrolled in social services” that help them find a place to live.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, said the requested settlement was $1.3 million.

The city law that was struck down said that “no person shall use a vehicle parked or standing upon” city streets and parking lots owned or controlled by the city or county “as living quarters either overnight, day-by- day, or otherwise.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the law allowed police to cite or arrest individuals for arbitrary reasons, with officers arresting people even when they were not actually living in their cars.

Often the citations or arrests would be made during a traffic stop, after officers observed personal belongings such as clothes, bedding, water bottles and portable radios in the cars.

On behalf of the appeals court, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in June 2014 that the law — known as Section 85.02 — allowed homeless people to be arrested while “eating, talking on the phone or escaping the rain in their vehicles,” which are activities that mimic “the everyday conduct of many Los Angeles residents.”

The law “provides inadequate notice of the unlawful conduct it proscribes, and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor,” Pregerson concluded.

— City News Service 

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