City of LA joins legal challenge to 9th Circuit's Boise decision

Last week, LA County’s Board of Supervisors voted to file an amicus brief in support of a legal challenge to a 9th Circuit decision which determined it was unconstitutional to prevent the homeless from sleeping on sidewalks unless they were offered a bed somewhere else. That decision has limited what municipalities in western states can do to deal with homelessness. Yesterday, the city of Los Angeles decided to join the push to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the so-called Boise decision:


City Attorney Mike Feuer announced today that he filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take on Martin v. Boise, saying his office needs more clarity on its ability to enforce sidewalk bans.

In the brief, Feuer says the city agrees that “no individual should be susceptible to punishment for sleeping on the sidewalk at night, if no alternative shelter is available.” But, he argues, the Boise decision—which covers nine states in the west, including California— raises more questions than it answers…

In the amicus brief, the city attorney says there are three questions left unresolved in the Boise decision. One of those questions is: How many beds, exactly, must the city build before it can take “enforcement action.”

The LA Times points out a large list of cities in California have joined the push to overturn the ruling including, “Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno, Riverside and Orange counties.” LA’s decision to join in on the challenge to the Boise decision came just a day after an LA City Council meeting to discuss new rules regarding sidewalk sleeping turned into a chaotic mess.

At a meeting Tuesday at City Hall punctuated with shouting and hissing from the crowd, members of the Los Angeles City Council began to discuss how and whether to rewrite city rules about sidewalk sleeping — and came out with no clear answer.

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who initiated the discussion, said L.A. needs to strike a balance between “the needs of people experiencing homelessness and people that we hear from every day who are understandably upset, frustrated and sometimes traumatized by the conditions they observe in many of our homeless encampments.”

“We must take an honest look at this catastrophe,” O’Farrell said, triggering yelling from the audience as he cited a “multifaceted set of conditions” in homeless encampments including addiction and mental health issues…

At one point, activists brought the meeting to the halt, yelling and eventually chanting, “Shame on you!” Venice activist David Busch, who is homeless, marched to the front of the chambers and shouted that “to even discuss this is disgusting!”


Ultimately, this problem is difficult because it goes to the root of the idea that people are responsible for themselves as individuals. What do you do when people can’t manage or when they simply give up trying?

For activists, the only acceptable solution is providing housing for the homeless, but the cost of doing so in places like LA (and San Francisco, Seattle, etc.) is prohibitive. There is simply no way LA County can afford to provide free homes to all 60,000 homeless people living here. Even if the county could somehow do so, the result would likely be a mass migration of homeless people from other cities finding their way to LA to get a better deal. This is a problem where many of the proposed solutions have the potential to make the problem worse.

Here’s a local news report on the LA City Council meeting. As you can see, the homeless have a very loud constituency.

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