The LA Alliance Case: Will A Federal Lawsuit Motivate Change?

If you’re anything like me, as you drive or bike around the Westside and see what is happening in our parks and on our streets, you probably think to yourself ‘How did we come to this point?’ and ‘How do we hold our City leaders accountable?’  Well, a group of businesses and residents in Skid Row has been asking those same questions…in court.

The LA Alliance lawsuit against the City and the County was filed in federal court in March 2020.  It demands immediate action to address the homelessness crisis, and alleges 14 causes of action, ranging from negligence and environmental violations to waste of public funds and state created danger.[1]

I’ve been watching this case closely because, in many ways, what we’re seeing in CD-11 is a microcosm of the allegations in the lawsuit.  And, any outcomes – either positive or negative – will ultimately impact our Westside neighborhoods and dictate what our local government does to address this crisis.

When I first read the lawsuit last year, a number of things jumped out at me.  For example, the lawsuit alleges that “by enforcing the law in some areas and declining to enforce the law in others, and by abdicating their duties under the law, the City and County have arbitrarily determined where homeless encampments may or may not be located and what communities should be affected.  This has placed a disproportionate burden on some persons, communities, and businesses over others.”

The lawsuit even specifically calls out Venice and Mar Vista: “City and County officials have within the last year, affirmatively notified and/or instructed homeless individuals that some areas (for example, Skid Row, certain areas in Venice, or under the 405 freeway) were locations where camps would be allowed to exist and persist.”  It goes on to describe how this containment policy treats those living, working, and owning property within these areas differently.

We are certainly seeing and feeling the impacts of containment policy here on the Westside, where Mike Bonin has actively concentrated the homeless in Venice.  Venice is where he chose to open his disastrous Bridge Home, which dramatically increased the number of encampments in this tiny 3.3 square mile community.  But the Venice problem has now expanded to Mar Vista Park, Westchester Park, the Ballona Wetlands, and countless residential neighborhoods and business districts across CD-11.

The LA Alliance lawsuit is assigned to Judge David Carter, a very hands-on judge. Back in April 2021, the very day after Mayor Garcetti announced his $1 billion dollar budget for homelessness, Judge Carter issued a sweeping, 110-page injunction.  In addition to taking the billion dollars away from the Mayor, he demanded the City and County come up with locations and funding to deal with the problem and to clear Skid Row within nine months.[2]  Judge Carter expressly noted how “promises to the citizens of Los Angeles regarding the homelessness crisis have been made and broken year after year.”

Both the City and County appealed the injunction to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, complaining that it wasn’t fair for the judge to demand accountability from elected leaders and arguing that the response to the crisis has been just fine.[1]  They even went so far as to claim that conditions on the street don’t constitute a current danger.[2]  The County even argued that citizens should not be allowed to sue to hold local government accountable for how it spends taxpayer money.[3]

The City and the County, and even LAHSA, which chimed in with its own arguments to the Ninth Circuit, claimed that long-term housing is the only solution to focus on.[4] [5]  According to LAHSA, short-term solutions, that cost far less, and actually get people the help they need now (not decades from now), are simply “stop gap” measures, not worth the time or effort.  I fully disagree: we actually do need stop-gap measures now.  The only way to get people the help they need right now, and to regain the use of our parks, beaches, and streets right now, is to offer shelter to the unhoused.  Not long-term luxury condos at the beach that cost $750k each, take a decade to build, and help too few.  Yes, permanent housing remains the laudable long-term solution, but we literally do not have time to wait.  People are dying, our neighborhoods are burning, and the bureaucrats in charge are so lost in their own illogical and failed ideas that they can’t see what is happening right in front of them.

On September 23, 2021, the Ninth Circuit overturned Judge Carter’s injunction on procedural grounds and sent the case back to him for further proceedings.[6]  The City and the County celebrated as if they had won the case – they didn’t.  Judge Carter will roll his sleeves back up, and the LA Alliance will not back down.[7]

But with Judge Carter focused on “decompressing” the Skid Row area, we have to ask, where will they go?  If Mike Bonin has his way, it will be to the Westside.  His regulatory agreement for the Venice Ramada Inn specifically calls for bringing homeless from other parts of the City to Venice, and he has used the LA Alliance case as his excuse for trying to give away Will Rogers, Dockweiler, and Fisherman’s Village.

I’ll keep you updated as this case unfolds.  In the meantime, keep doing your best, and I will do the same.

Traci Park

[1] https://spertuslaw.sharefile.com/share/view/s06850f70ffa746c5a7bb0482e5abf3aa

[2] https://spertuslaw.sharefile.com/share/view/s06850f70ffa746c5a7bb0482e5abf3aa

[3] https://spertuslaw.sharefile.com/share/view/sc917d8a615174c7386e46191100679b3

[4] https://spertuslaw.sharefile.com/share/view/s94833239566943d7a6497cdf165b44e1

[5] https://spertuslaw.sharefile.com/share/view/se6da8fc3a455408f9b2966a684ee9348

[6] https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/laalliance/pages/263/attachments/original/1632425584/9th_Circuit_Court_Ruling_-_9-23-21.pdf?1632425584

[7] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-10-18/la-politicians-face-a-reckoning-on-homelessness+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

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