CCA Reflects: Citywide Policy Making Deserves Public Discussion

CCA Reflects: Citywide Policy Making Deserves Public Discussion

Published Thursday, February 28, 2019

Since last summer, CCA and our coalition of social service providers and civic leaders have been active on the Mitchell v. City of Los Angeles (Mitchell) case, advocating for our position that Downtown should not be given different standards than the rest of the city. You may remember from our letter to the City and CCA Reflects piece that we have serious concerns with the approach that was taken with this case.

The Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee has held three closed session discussions on this case, and there were more than 100 speakers who spoke during public comment at these hearings, demonstrating the high pubic interest in this issue. Because the discussions were conducted in closed session and kept confidential, the public has not learned whether the City plans on settling the case -- including possible settlement terms -- or taking the case to trial. At the last committee meeting in February, the Committee ultimately moved the matter to City Council without a recommendation.

The full Council will be deliberating on this issue in March. Our coalition has made significant progress, but we still have many concerns that need to be considered.

The Council must look at Mitchell comprehensively and assess the impacts a settlement would have on not only Downtown, but the entire city. L.A. has been mired in a cycle of lawsuits that has dictated the City's policy on homelessness. Our coalition's approach is about fighting that cycle. These lawsuits not only tie the City's hands in making policy, but undermine the work that the Council and voters have done to address homelessness. The significant work on Proposition HHH, Measure H, "A Bridge Home" and the revision of LAMC 56.11 are all threatened.

Downtown is the area with the most homeless housing and services, and therefore the area with the greatest need for a fair and reasonable limit on personal goods in public areas. If Mitchell is settled with no limit on personal goods in the area with the most homeless resources and residents, it is unreasonable to believe that any other part of the city would be able to have more restrictive standards. Mitchell will establish the baseline for the entire city and that is why we feel strongly that settling Mitchell with no limits on personal goods except for specific bulky items would be much worse for the City than actually losing at trial. If the City loses at trial, there is always the ability to appeal. If the City settles the case, the only way to change the settlement terms is to return to the plaintiffs and seek agreement. This is important to consider when using taxpayer dollars to fund litigation, especially when the plaintiffs have a proven track record of maintaining the most rigid position despite circumstances changing.

The City Council and the City Attorney have the ability to hire outside counsel to assist with Mitchell and related litigation including LAMC 56.11, "A Bridge Home", Cooley v. City of L.A. and the revision of LAMC 41.18, and we recommend that they do so. These are very complex matters that require a tremendous amount of time from City staff, and we believe having additional resources will be beneficial to the City, providing a complete picture on how these items relate to one another.

When discussing settlement terms, we ask the Council to consider the following:

-We should presume any settlement terms for one area would become citywide. This occurred with Lavan v. City of L.A. We need a solution that works for the entire city.

-Any time limits in a settlement will not work. It will be impossible to shift back once a standard has been set as evidenced by Jones v. City of L.A.

-Any settlement terms need to be consistent with city policies already in place.

Most importantly, because discussions have been kept confidential, we are greatly concerned that the public has not had the ability to learn about the potential citywide implications of a proposed settlement of the Mitchell case. To that point, we ask the Council to consider releasing a draft of the settlement terms to allow the public to weigh in before taking official action. We believe this will elevate the public discourse on this important citywide policy matter and provide transparency while increasing accountability.

Since the Mitchell injunction was issued in 2016, we have seen the conditions in Downtown steadily worsen. Piles of belongings entangled with trash and debris are common sights, creating unhealthy conditions. We firmly believe that every individual -- especially the most vulnerable -- is entitled to the full benefit of the U.S. Constitution's protections. We know that the injunction has created serious public health implications in the area and applying a reasonable limit on personal goods will help create healthier conditions while still providing individuals with the Constitution's protections. We are pleased that the full Council will soon be deliberating over this citywide policy issue, and we hope they act on our significant concerns and recommendations.


Recent News to Learn More About Mitchell:

-Councilmember Buscaino discussed Mitchell on Dr. Drew Midday Live. Listen to his part on Episode 2/12 - 12pm and go to 23:50 in the episode.

-Susan Shelley, a columnist for the Southern California News Group, wrote an opinion story on Mitchell for the L.A. Daily News.