Civil Rights

L.A. Living in Vehicle Law Found UnConstitutional

By Peggy Lee Kennedy

To me it’s a sweet, but sad victory. This recently overturned unconstitutional Los Angeles City law, LAMC 85.02, has been used over the years to harm many more people than the four plaintiffs in the Desertrain vs. City of Los Angeles appeal.
Harassment, arrests, tickets, vehicle tows, pets taken to the pound, stay-away orders, intimidating city attorney hearings, unnecessary court appointments, warrants for those who could not show up each time, inappropriate hate mongering by the city and homeless hate groups – these are some of the injustices connecting the victims of this unconstitutional law.

The hope is that this win results in more overall justice for all those affected.
Sometimes being a leader means taking the responsibility to make amends and create some form of reconciliation. Not just using our tax dollars to pay for the mistakes of the City. We have a systemically broken system in Los Angeles that criminalizes poverty and our elected leaders need the guts to honestly try to fix it. Our City Attorney took a first step. But people, it is much more than just this one unconstitutional law.  

Carol Sobel, the civil rights attorney who won this important case, believes that “Not only is this a victory for unhoused individuals, but it is also a very important step in the judicial recognition of the  need to address any legitimate issues the City seeks to remedy by some more humane means than criminalizing poverty.” And she is so right. There are plenty more humane means to addressing homelessness than ticketing, arresting, towing, and police harassment.

The story of this unconstitutional law is not new, but the lawsuit starts with Councilman Mike Bonin’s mentor and predecessor, Bill Rosendahl. He was champion for pushing through the OPD (Overnight Permit District) LA City law, specifically used to remove anyone living in a vehicle from a street – very often on streets with no residents, like by a park or a golf course.

It basically backfired. While we were fighting OPDs at the California Coastal Commission, because Venice is in the coastal zone and parking equals access, OPDs were going up all over LA and the vehicle housed people had less and less places to park. More people were becoming homeless and vehicle housed at the same time. Not such a smart move for Bill Rosendahl, considering the resistance. Mike Bonin, the current council person, was Bill’s chief of staff at that time.

Not one parking space in Venice was offered to the vehicle housed in order to offset this push. But plenty of big talk from Bill about a safe parking program along with the money spent on some ridiculous consultant to create one. Not to mention how Bill was going to amend LAMC 85.02 so people could have a place to park! The law is gone, where the hell are those safe parking spots? It was all a bunch of S.H.I.T. and the City keeps putting up more “No Oversized Vehicles from 2-6am” parking signs everywhere. But I digress.

Anyway, Bill Rosendahl and his criminalize-the-homeless posse lost their battle for OPDs at the Coastal Commission again in 2010. Then began a never seen before war waged on anyone in what even looked like a live-aboard vehicle in Venice. Don’t try to drive through, either. That is exactly what led to the Desertrain lawsuit. Very nasty stuff.  I encourage everyone to read the 9th Circuit decision on line at: It is an easy nineteen-page read that might open your eyes a wee bit.

We are waiting for it to turn around. The money spent on these crazy homeless “clean up” sweeps and defending the other laws used to target homeless people in Venice is more of the same costly insanity, now led by Mike Bonin. Saying you are against criminalizing homelessness is not enough. In fact it is Orwellian to say the words when outrageous city recourses are used for inhumane, non-solutions at the same time.

The City writes laws, often called Quality of Life Laws, and continues to enforce laws in a discriminatory way that affect homeless people disproportionately. Mike Bonin recently announced that his council district budget for prosecuting these types of laws had been increased. Not exactly the change we were hoping for.
The court determined that LAMC 85.02 was written and enforced in such a vague way that it encouraged arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Ninth Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in his conclusion, “For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession — the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.”
Calvin Moss, with the Venice Justice Committee, commented that “The Judges just nailed it on this one, a classic historical constitutional decision.” Our Justice Committee does not enjoy catching the City violating civil and human rights. People are being harmed. We are looking for real change and real solutions.

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