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Decision nears on skid row lawsuit

October 10, 2007|Steve Hymon and David Zahniser | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles City Council appears to be on the verge of settling a long-standing lawsuit over an ordinance that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks and has been used to roust the homeless from downtown's skid row, City Hall sources said.

Six homeless people sued the city over the law in 2003. As part of the settlement, the city reportedly has agreed to enforce the law only between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and to apply it equally citywide.

Most important, the city has agreed that it will enforce the law at night only after it has built or added 1,250 units of supportive housing for the homeless, with 50% of those units downtown, an initiative that will probably take years.

The council met in closed session to discuss the lawsuit. After the meeting was reopened to the public, no details were provided on the discussion. Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes most of skid row, said only that the council had "provided direction" to the city attorney's office over how to proceed.

Perry declined to say more. Three sources familiar with the case provided details on the condition that they not be named.

Carol Sobel, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, also declined to comment, as did the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the appeal of the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April 2006 that the city's use of the law to force homeless people from the sidewalks was illegal because it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The judges reasoned that many homeless had nowhere else to sleep at night because the city lacked enough shelter beds.

The council in September 2006 rejected a settlement effort by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and the city and plaintiffs have been trying to reach an accord.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles Police Department last year stepped up its enforcement of other laws intended to stop criminal activity.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said last week that that effort had halved the number of people sleeping on the streets downtown while also reducing crime 32% on skid row in the last year.

He also said he believed the crackdown had pushed the homeless population into other neighborhoods.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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