Court Strikes Down Los Angeles Law Banning Living in Vehicles

I thought the homeless were Venice Beach's official city mascotCredit: Malingering / photo on flickrHere’s what a law passed by the City of Los Angeles in 1983 says:

No person shall use a vehicle parked or standing upon any City street, or upon any parking lot owned by the City of Los Angeles and under the control of the City of Los Angeles or under control of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.

While the wording of the law may seem simple (regardless of how one might feel about it), a trio of circuit judges from the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday that the description of what behavior violates the law is so unclear that it was being used by police to (surprise!) harass homeless people who believed they were actually complying with the law.

The ruling (readable here) centers on the behavior of police in Venice Beach, a place with quite a few homeless people. Following complaints in 2010 about all the homeless folks around, police started cracking down, using this 1983 law as the tool. But as Judge Harry Pregerson noted in the ruling, the police were using just the existence of personal property or food in a vehicle as evidence that the law was being violated and even threatening homeless people who were sleeping in their vehicles on private property, like church parking lots, with the owner’s permission. One homeless plaintiff in the lawsuit had to resort to sleeping on a public sidewalk (which is legal) rather than in his car in order to comply with the law. He nevertheless was arrested and his vehicle impounded when police found him sitting in his car to avoid the rain. One woman was pulled over and cited for violating the law while actually driving her vehicle through Venice.

The judges ruled that the statute is a due process disaster because it is unconstitutionally vague and fails to provide adequate notice of the conduct it criminalizes. The ruling notes:

Plaintiffs are left guessing as to what behavior would subject them to citation and arrest by an officer. Is it impermissible to eat food in a vehicle? Is it illegal to keep a sleeping bag? Canned food? Books? What about speaking on a cell phone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain? These are all actions Plaintiffs were taking when arrested for violation of the ordinance, all of which were otherwise perfectly legal. And despite Plaintiffs’ repeated attempts to comply with Section 85.02, there appears to be nothing they can do to avoid violating the statute short of discarding all their belongings or their vehicles, or leaving Los Angeles entirely.

Oh hey, I think the judge stumbled across the real goal of the statute at the end there. In conclusion, the judge ruled that the city was using the law specifically to harass homeless people for engaging in many of the same behaviors in their vehicles undertaken by many other people in Los Angeles each day, and the law violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The city attorney for Los Angeles told the Associated Press the city would not be appealing the ruling and will instead craft a new ordinance "that respects both the rights and needs of homeless individuals and protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

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  • UnCivilServant||

    will instead craft a new ordinance "that respects both the rights and needs of homeless individuals and protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

    That would be to leave it blank and not criminalize harmless behaviour.

  • Brian D||

    Well they're certainly not going to do that!

  • datcv||

    Someone should let Palo Alto know.

    They just banned gross poor people from sleeping in their car last August.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/pen.....elling-ban

  • sarcasmic||

    Just make homelessness illegal. That will fix it.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Just make poverty illegal.

  • Swiss Servator, CH yeah!||

    What we need is a WAR! Perhaps a War on Poorishness or a War on Bad Times or such...

  • Slammer||

    Plaintiffs are left guessing as to what behavior would subject them to citation and arrest by an officer.

    Eating donuts in the car? An on-board computer in the car? A ticket book in the car? A two way radio in the car? A dry-cleaned uniform in the car? A duffel bag of weapons and equipment in the car?

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    ^Fucking this.

  • Pro Libertate||

    As we approach Chet Roosevelt's election and Nike's foreclosure on the U.S., this sort of law is not only wrong, it's a law in the wrong direction. What we need are homestead exemptions expanded to include cars.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I don't want people homesteading in my car!

  • UnCivilServant||

    */sarcasm.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No, that would be wrong, but you could rent out your trunk.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I disagree with this ruling. These car dwellers are a threat to brick-and-mortar homeowners. What's next? Food trucks?

  • UnCivilServant||

    How about we have an area where carsteaders and food trucks can go to operate. We can even put up a drive-in theater there.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    When I moved to Venice in 1993, it was a mix of surfers, artists, old hippies, the homeless, gangbangers, aspiring actors, and the odd celebrity. There were some nice places on the beach, some cute bungalows away from the beach, and then a whole bunch of violence in Oakwood neighborhood. Following the 1994 earthquake, a certain, more affluent population began to move into Venice. Long story short, 15 years later, it is safe to walk down Abbott Kinney Blvd. after dark, you can't play pool with cholos at the Brig, and rich Westside liberals hate homeless people. According to liberal Westside residents, homeless people belong segregated to the worst, most violent parts of Los Angeles. Homeless people are dirty and gross, and they are hurting property values. Isn't there some sort of government program to get these people out of their cars and into a home? Moved to Venice for the funky culture, then drove any funk out of the place.

  • The Tone Police||

    I don't know what to do with the homeless, but, and this will be rude, but they can be dirty and gross nuisances. Failing to address the reality that people don't want homeless in their neighborhoods will only result in an increase in things like HOAs and gated communities.

  • gimmeasammich||

    And?

  • Doctor Whom||

    Failing to address the reality that people don't want homeless in their neighborhoods will only result in an increase in things like HOAs and gated communities.

    ...which I'd rather have than a law like this.

  • The Tone Police||

    I mean let's just cut to the chase and say that libertarians don't think you can just dump toxic waste on sidewalks just because they are public, but that you can walk on them. Somewhere in the middle exists the line between acceptable and unacceptable.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Somewhere in the middle exists the line between acceptable and unacceptable.

    Criminalizing people because they are poor and have to live in a car is unacceptable. What do you think is acceptable?

  • The Tone Police||

    I already said downthread the law is bad. But you're not entitled to shit on a sidewalk, and I don't think you should be allowed to sleep on it either. That's not what they are there for.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I'm not arguing for people to shit or sleep on sidewalks either. So, what is acceptable? Do you think criminalizing people for being poor and living in cars is acceptable?

  • wareagle||

    I think the line you are looking for, EDG, is not hard to find: there is a difference between people living in their cars due to some circumstances and the professional homeless who camp out on benches/sidewalks/etc. The former will likely get back on their feet; the latter are what they are.

  • The Tone Police||

    Again, no. People should be allowed to sleep in their cars if the property owner permits it.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's not what they are there for.

    One time I saw some cops beating the shit out of some kids, and I stopped to stare. A cop ran up to me and said he'd take me to jail for loitering if I didn't start walking, because standing is not what sidewalks are for.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    At Band Camp?

  • The Tone Police||

    Huh. That has nothing to do with my position.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    You obviously don't care about my right to gambol freely.

  • The Tone Police||

    Ha! It's true I don't.

  • ||

    I don't know what to do with the homeless, but, and this will be rude, but they can be dirty and gross nuisances. Failing to address the reality that people don't want homeless in their neighborhoods will only result in an increase in things like HOAs and gated communities.

    Is it just me or is there a big split on people's reactions to this depending on urban-ness? I just...I mean, there are better and worse homeless, but homeless people all over my neighborhood has been a fact of life for me since I was 17 and it just doesn't faze me.

  • The Tone Police||

    It is not a problem in my neighborhood. I think it is a much greater problem in poorer neighborhoods, where the working poor are subject to the increased crime and reduction in standards of living because of the homeless and the idle.

  • ||

    I just mean like..."the reality that people don't want homeless in their neighborhoods"...I don't deny that many people feel that way, but as I said, it's been a fact of life for almost half my life. Not that there aren't still nuisances, but like, so are the drunk college kids in my neighborhood, you know. I don't know. There is a city size, I think, where you just stop giving a fuck because it's the only way to live that densely.

  • sarcasmic||

    A homeless person is much more likely to be victimized by a pack of drunk college students than the other way around.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Moved to Venice for the funky culture, then drove any funk out of the place.

    Now, you know that no one does that. I suppose next you'll tell us that people move to in-town party neighborhoods and complain about the noise or to rural areas and complain about the smell of fertilizer.

  • antisocial-ist||

    If the fertilizer is from chickens, they have my sympathy.

  • ||

    I think my favorite was the guy who moved in and forced his neighbor to cut down two old, rare trees that blocked his view and were there when he bought the house.

  • croaker||

    Forced how? That retard would be getting multiple taps from my clue stick, which looks a lot like a Louisville Slugger.

  • Sudden||

    The SWPL urban hipsters of downtown Los Angeles seem to wholly embrace the heroin-addled homeless masses that infest this part of the city.

    Many wish to continue more and more money into subsidized housing in skid row just to get the nightly post-apocalyptic tent scene off the streets, but don't seem to mind the homeless aside from that.

    They do however all love that Broadway is getting pricey and turning away from being "ghetto" (read: quincera dress shops and sundry hispanic run small businesses) and into an Ace Hotel/Urban Outfitters Mecca.

    Their priorities are so fucked.

  • ||

    My favorite samosas are in Venice. I took a friend and we ended up sitting on a grassy knoll with a bunch of rando homeless people to have our samosas and mango lassi. One of them had some kind of acute distress and used a vendor's phone to call for an ambulance, which never came.

    It's still weird, it's just confined to the boardwalk area now.

  • The Tone Police||

    This law sounds bad. Laws trying to contain a homeless problem are not per se bad.

  • Tonio||

    Why? Do the homeless not have rights? Do these laws not expand the power and reach of government?

    Sure, nobody likes the homeless camping nearby, but the alternative where the police can arrest you for merely existing is scary.

    As noted above, the only solution is privatization. Private communities with private roads.

  • The Tone Police||

    They don't have the right to sleep on sidewalks, no. That's an entitlement we should take away.

  • sarcasmic||

    They don't have the right to sleep on sidewalks, no.

    That's right. The sidewalks are public property. Being that the public is everyone except the individual, of course no individual has the right to sleep on public property. It belongs to the public, not them, because the public is everyone else.

  • The Tone Police||

    If you have a point, state it plainly. Can I dump my toxic waste on the sidewalk? It's "mine", after all.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    ROADZ

  • wareagle||

    there may be a difference between someone living out of their car and the more stereotypical professional homeless person who does not own a car. This sounds a like a law in search of a problem. Seems it would be better to have someone sleeping in a car than on a sidewalk but I'm not a CA bureaucrat.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    This is really about rich liberal Westsiders wanting to aesthetically sanitize their neighborhoods. Liberal compassion is a fucking myth. They make their children do community service at soup kitchens (it looks good on the UCLA application), then turn around and use the police to bully homeless, confiscate their only property, and ship them to downtown LA where they will be brutalized on Skid Row.

  • gimmeasammich||

    "Stay the fuck out of Malibu, Lebowski!"

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    "They make their children do community service at soup kitchens "

    In my experience, the volunteers are mostly conservative, even in Venice.

    Nowadays, liberals make their kids march in protests. It's all the rage of Facebook.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    *on Facebook*

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Cripes. I didn't think liberals could be more insufferable. But you're right. They're sending their kids to protests. That's why I keep seeing tweens and teens in footage of protests. Demented.

  • ||

    Meh, I had to hold anti-abortion signs on a street corner as a middle schooler (out on PCH and Artesia). I doubt this behavior is either new or confined to progressives.

  • Tonio||

    "Liberal compassion is a fucking myth."

    ^This.

  • wareagle||

    you mean rich liberals don't walk their liberal talk. I'm going to have to get my shocked face out.

    In SF, they have pretty much ceded the land in front of municipal buildings, the courthouse, etc. Last time I was there, it looked like a campground for shopping carts.

  • Tonio||

    Better the municipal buildings than residential neighborhoods. Let government be inconvenienced first.

  • wareagle||

    Just making an observation, not a value judgment. And I would agree with you; let govt be affected by its policies.

  • sarcasmic||

    Liberal compassion is a fucking myth.

    Ain't that the truth.

    The more liberal the area, the more stupid laws like this that they're going to have. And the more dickish cops to enforce them. With enough laws and assholes to enforce them, then principals replace principles. Who you are and who you know matters more than what you do. Laws become selectively enforced depending upon who you are. That's the way the left likes it to be.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Isn't there some sort of government program to get these people out of their cars and into a home?

    Preferably out in the desert; far, far from Venice.

  • Tonio||

    Their cars are their homes. You mean traditional, fixed homes? Who is going to pay for that? And once you start such a program you become a magnet for more homeless.

    Homeless shelters are good in theory but many of the homeless avoid them because of theft by other shelterees.

  • The Tone Police||

    He was being sarcastic.

  • ||

    Tonio was replying to the quote Brooks used.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    When I wrote the quote, I was being sarcastic, trying to write from the mindset of a liberal. In that, they are liberals, but don't want to deal personally with the homeless. Instead, since they paid taxes and voted for liberal politicians, certainly the government can solve the problem. Even if it means kicking people out of their car home, and stuffing them in a violent shelter.

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    Food, water, change of clothes, a few tools, a small tarp and some line... They could arrest me for my car's Get Home Bag.

  • Rich||

    living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise

    Emphasis added. Every clown involved in "crafting" such legislation should lose its job and pension.

  • waffles||

    My antipathy for the homeless comes from two places.
    1) They smell bad.
    2) I am insanely jealous of their free time.

    That said, we don't need to codify more ways for them to be fucked with. The homeless are far more likely to be a victim of a crime than perpetrate one. Sure it kinda sucks when I want to go for a walk and have a cigarette and three grungy dudes pop out and hit me up for one. Or when their nasty pitbull is lunging at my dog. Or when they always leave a puddle of urine in the bridge under the train tracks. The homeless around where I used to live were just a nasty part of the climate. But they were practically herded there by the police and I knew what I was getting into when I moved. I think people should gambol freely, I sure as shit would love to.

  • Tonio||

    Some of the homeless actually work, either full time jobs (fast food, parking attendants), or regularly doing temp gigs such as warehouse work.

    Don't always assume the panhandlers are homeless.

  • wareagle||

    I would wager the ones with cars are more likely to work than those without, which only makes this law all the more retarded. But it's govt; I repeat myself.

  • Sevo||

    There was a guy living in the back of a very nice high-cube van. It was usually parked right in front of his 5-yo Saab sedan.
    One
    Sunday morning when I went to the gas station-mini mart for a newspaper, he was filling the can he used for his generator and since he didn't go inside, it was obviously a credit-card transaction.
    Don't know his story, but he's a very well-off bum.

  • sarcasmic||

    Homeless doesn't equal bum, and bum doesn't equal homeless.

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    As a young man I learned the difference between a bum, a tramp and a hobo.

  • sarcasmic||

    Panhandlers often have places to live since they can often make a hundred dollars a day.

    And the homeless often have jobs, but don't panhandle because they've got too much pride.

    So then the cops fuck more with the homeless who are trying to better themselves than with the beggars who pretend to be homeless.

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    Some of the homeless actually work, either full time jobs (fast food, parking attendants), or regularly doing temp gigs such as warehouse work.

    I was homeless for 6 months half a lifetime ago. I was working at a brand new job at a factory to build up money for college when my apartment building burned. I had nowhere to go and no way to get into a new place. I made a shelter by digging out a natural recess in a hillside in the woods near work, then covering it over with skinny pine trunks, then several layers alternating cheap tarps with dirt and leaves. Work had showers, so hygiene was only a problem during weekends and Christmas shutdown.

  • db||

    How in the fuck are you people posting from the future? It's 1408 EDT right now.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    That's pretty bad ass.

  • Tonio||

    Thank you for sharing that perspective.

    We used to have a actively homeless poster here, JsubD. He was a homeless vet who posted from the public library. He died a few years back. Will be missed.

    JsubD originated the phrase "Fuck off, slaver." Respect, bro, wherever you are.

  • DJF||

    Obviously the problem is socialist roads. Once roads are owned by private people they can police their own property.

  • Sevo||

    So, does Venice have 'rent control' to help keep housing prices high?

  • ||

    LA County got rid of rent control in '84. Venice is actually just a neighborhood of LA City. There seems to be a Rent Stabilization Ordinance but it seems to only apply to buildings older than 1978.

  • ||

    So basically 90% of all the buildings in Venice beach.

  • ||

    I think the larger apartment complexes went in in the late '80s, and many of the beach cottages along the canals were replaced by overly simplified narco arquitectura monstrosities in the mid-90s, but most of the smaller buildings and buildings along the waterfront would be covered.

  • Acosmist||

    Just as "flash mob" means a totally different thing in Philly, I think "homeless" evokes a totally different kind of person. Otherwise, I can't imagine people being this tolerant of the homeless.

  • db||

    Witch! Thou posteth from a time beyond the present! (1415 EDT)

  • Mickey Rat||

    You are telling I can't live in a van down by the river?!

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