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The Jones settlement and its consequences

The Jones settlement and its consequences

A con game is afoot in Los Angeles. The City Council, or should we call it the City Con-cil, is currently pretending that forcing purportedly temporary homeless housing into parks and parking lots in residential neighborhoods will finally allow the city to clear the growing number of trash-strewn and unhealthful tent encampments from the sidewalks, streets and freeways.

It’s a lie, just as the 2007 settlement in Jones vs. Los Angeles was a lie.

The Jones settlement came out of a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging L.A. Municipal Code section 41.18(d), which stated, “No person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way,” unless they were attending a parade. In that case, the U.S. Ninth Circuit ruled against the city, calling that ordinance, “one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States.”

Instead of appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and making the sensible argument that the city had a compelling reason for the law, city officials settled with the ACLU. The city agreed to stop enforcing the ban on sleeping on the sidewalks anywhere in Los Angeles between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. until another 1,250 units of housing for the chronically homeless were constructed, including at least 625 in the downtown Skid Row area.

In return, the ACLU agreed that the Ninth Circuit ruling in the Jones case would not be a binding precedent in future cases.

And here’s how it turned out to be a two-pronged con game perpetrated against the people of Los Angeles: the city built the housing but never resumed enforcement of the ban on sidewalk-sleeping. And the promise that the Jones case would not be a binding precedent was rendered worthless when the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in a completely separate case, Martin v. Boise, and used all the reasoning from the Jones decision to rule that cities may not enforce a ban on public camping unless sufficient shelter beds are available.

The court didn’t give precise guidance on exactly how many shelter beds must be available, or where they must be located, or what sort of shelter meets the court’s standard. The judges also didn’t say cities had to allow public camping absolutely anywhere. There’s enough ambiguity in the decision to allow lawyers to sue a city over virtually any type of enforcement against tent encampments.

You’re living with the consequences of the reckless decision to settle the Jones case instead of appealing and fighting for a city’s power to maintain public health and safety. And now, they’re trying to sell this same con game to you again.

U.S. District Judge David Carter is overseeing a lawsuit filed by downtown business owners and residents against the city and county of Los Angeles. The lawsuit charges that officials have failed to provide housing for the homeless who are camping on the sidewalks. Carter has teased that there could be an agreement to allow enforcement of an anti-camping ordinance if enough housing is hurriedly found for the homeless.

With that non-binding non-promise in hand, L.A. City Council members are rushing to take over public parks, such as North Hollywood Park and Alexandria Park in North Hollywood, and public parking lots, such as the one behind the West Valley Municipal Building in Reseda, for “cabin communities,” housing for the homeless to be run by third-party non-profit organizations. There also are plans to purchase and convert hotel and motel properties for the same purpose. Even Skateland in Northridge, its business devastated by the government’s unending lockdown, could become full-service homeless housing.

The cost? We have no idea.

But we do know that the City Council has so far refused to pass an anti-camping ordinance, so there isn’t even a pretense that the city will ever take action to remove tent encampments from public spaces. And no agreement reached with Judge Carter is binding on the Ninth Circuit if different activists choose to sue the city to stop the enforcement of laws intended to protect public health and safety.

Just like the Jones settlement, this is a monstrous bait-and-switch that will open a vein and bleed the city budget. Don’t be conned into believing otherwise.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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