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Perry Troubled by Bid to End Suit

The councilwoman who represents skid row says lawyers she hired to review the ACLU settlement found no benefit for the city.

September 20, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council member whose district includes much of skid row said Tuesday that she is troubled by a prospective legal settlement over how the city polices homelessness.

Councilwoman Jan Perry also revealed she had hired outside attorneys to vet the proposed settlement and provided a copy of their assessment to reporters.

"Candidly, we do not think the settlement provides any benefit to the city whatsoever," attorneys Edward Lazarus and William A. Norris wrote in a letter to Perry.

Los Angeles officials and the American Civil Liberties Union are trying to settle the organization's suit challenging a municipal law prohibiting people from sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks.

A federal court ruled in April that the law was unconstitutional and was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment because the city doesn't have enough shelter beds, and the homeless had nowhere else to go.

The council is scheduled to discuss the settlement at today's meeting. Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes the rest of skid row, said he supports the settlement.

The settlement, as detailed in the attorneys' letter, would allow homeless people to sleep on skid row between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., require the city to drop its appeal of the case and also have the city pick up the ACLU's legal fees.

"It's a good settlement that allows us to get to work on some real and permanent solutions," Huizar said. "In the meantime, this allows the police to go into skid row and be tough on crime."

Perry said she is concerned with another provision of the settlement that allows the federal ruling to remain a published legal opinion and, therefore, possibly set a legal precedent for Los Angeles and other cities.

"If we agree to this, we're basically relinquishing any chance in the future to define how we'll address the issue of homelessness, even if we come up with a new law," Perry said.

In particular, Perry believes that under the ruling anyone who claims to be incapacitated can remain on the street, one reason she doesn't want the ruling to be a precedent

Perry said that she hired her own attorneys to offer an alternative opinion to what she was getting from the offices of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayor's press office said only that Villaraigosa supports a settlement. ACLU officials did not comment, citing a confidentiality agreement covering parties to the settlement talks.

In their opinion, Lazarus and Norris wrote that the federal court ruling in April only prevented the city from enforcing its sidewalk sleeping law "at all times and places."

In their view, the city can enforce the law now on the condition the sidewalk ban isn't in effect at all times. "In the settlement, the ACLU is offering the city a degree of enforcement authority that the city already possesses -- which means, at bottom, the ACLU is offering nothing at all."

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