Court strikes down law banning people from living in vehicles

06/27/2014 4:26 pm0 commentsViews: 29

From City News Service

Chuck Leopold has lived in his VW Van for the past 26 years. Photo by Gary McCarthy

Chuck Leopold has lived in his VW Van for the past 26 years.
Photo by Gary McCarthy

One day after an appeals court panel struck down Los Angeles’ law banning people from living in vehicles, a City Council member said Friday he is hopeful a new ordinance can be crafted that will address the issue without “criminalizing” homeless people.

“We don’t want to criminalize homelessness and we also don’t want our residential neighborhoods to turn into campgrounds,” Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the 11th District, which includes Venice, West Los Angeles and Brentwood, told Video News West at City Hall.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena unanimously ruled June 19 that the city’s 1983 ordinance, which bans people from living in cars or recreational vehicles on city streets or in parking lots, is unconstitutionally vague and “criminalizes innocent behavior.”

City Attorney Mike Feuer said he would not appeal the ruling, but he would work with other city officials to write a new ordinance.

A group of homeless car dwellers sued the city in 2011 but lost in Los Angeles federal court, leading to the appeal. The Los Angeles law prohibits the use of vehicles as living quarters both overnight and “day-by-day, or otherwise.”

According to the appeals panel, the law caused “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” The panel found that the statute is so vague that it could “cover any driver in Los Angeles who eats food or transports personal belongings in his or her vehicle,” but it “appears to be applied only to the homeless.”

When Los Angeles police began aggressively enforcing the ban in 2010 after complaints from Venice residents, city officials said the law was designed to protect health and safety.

Bonin pointed to the effectiveness of the Streets to Home program, which has housed 130 people who had been living in vehicles in Venice.

“I think [homelessness] has always been at the forefront for me, particularly in Venice, but it’s also an issue in downtown, an issue in Hollywood, South L.A. and the valley,” Bonin said. “In my district, it’s not just an issue in Venice … it’s an issue throughout Los Angeles.”

 

“We don’t want to criminalize homelessness and we also don’t want our residential neighborhoods to turn into campgrounds.”

— Councilman Mike Bonin

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