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Court overturns Los Angeles ban on living in cars

L.A. Court Strikes Down Ban Against Homeless People Sleeping in Cars

By Lisa Leff

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court on Thursday struck down a 31-year-old Los Angeles law that bars people from living in parked vehicles, saying the vaguely written statute discriminates against the homeless and poor.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involved a 1983 law that prohibits the use of a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise."

The court said the law was unconstitutional because its ambiguous wording does not make clear what conduct would constitute a violation and "criminalizes innocent behavior."

The decision came in a case brought on behalf of four people who were cited and arrested in the Venice area by Los Angeles police officers who concluded the numerous belongings in their RVs and cars meant they were violating the law.

"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 cellphone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain?" Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel. "These are all actions plaintiffs were taking when arrested for violation of the ordinance, all of which are otherwise perfectly legal."

The officers were part of an LAPD homelessness task force charged with enforcing the ordinance in response from community complaints about people living in their cars.

The panel's ruling overturned a lower court judge who had sided with the city and dismissed the case without a trial.

Carol Sobel, the lawyer for the three men and one woman who sued to overturn the law in 2011, said Los Angeles' ban on living in cars was exceptionally broad. One of her clients was cited while waiting outside a church that served meals and another while driving her RV through Venice on her way to sell her work at a local art fair.

Even so, the ruling might force other western cities within the 9th Circuit's territory to amend statutes that outlaw sleeping in vehicles, Sobel said, citing the city of Palo Alto as an example.

"People living in their vehicles is one of the great unidentified homeless groups in this country - formerly middle-class people who lost everything during the recession and are trying to maintain the appearance of stability so they can go to work," she said.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, whose office defended the law before the 9th Circuit, said the city would not appeal. Instead, Feuer said he would work with other officials to write a replacement ordinance "that respects both the rights and needs of homeless individuals and protects the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

"We need to make a break from the past, recognize that the civil and criminal justice systems alone can't effectively address homelessness, and commit ourselves to grappling with the issues that create homelessness in the first place," he said.

Pregerson did not make clear in the panel's opinion what, if anything, city lawmakers could do to make the law pass constitutional muster.

"The city of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens," he wrote. "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."

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mlbj77 June 20 2014 at 4:07 AM

if Obama can house and feed thousands of illegals crossing the border at his invitation then we should be able to house and feed our lawful homless who have fallen on bad time due to various reasons.

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22 replies
Rick June 20 2014 at 2:17 AM

Arrest someone because the only last bit of protection that they have from the elements is their vehicle....... We live in a very sick country.............. Remember we're supposed to be free........

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15 replies
iplayeasy2 June 20 2014 at 1:22 AM

I guess they should be making routine RV park sweeps arresting and impounding every vehicle designed specifically to sleep in. Personally, I'd rather see a homeless person sleeping in a car than laying on the sidewalks or under freeways like wild animals How about helping them to find work? Put them to work as volunteer cops?

Flag Reply +67 rate up
9 replies
vladimir June 20 2014 at 12:34 AM

Soon every working person in the u.s.a. will be sleeping in their car.

Flag Reply +64 rate up
8 replies
Shane Haerr June 20 2014 at 1:09 AM

When I was younger(now 30) I lived in vans about half the year. I lived in San Diego without issue, usually at my job (Olhausen Pool Tables) or at walmart on the weekends I'd stay at the beach. I also live in Lake Ozark, Missouri and Daytona Beach aswell as my home state of Ohio. I lived well and usually had a job I did this from 2002 to 2006. It allowed me to see the country not be tied down by bills and use my hard earned dollars on thing I enjoy like good food and entertainment. It was extremely liberating. Now I have rented a house since 09 and feel incredibly suffocated by it spending half my income on a house I don't enjoy that much. But I have recently purchased a new 1979 4x4 Econoline and have been busy customizing the interior this summer with possible plans to move it to either Maui or Alaska so maybe I can enjoy my 30s as much as I enjoyed my early 20s. Now with this news I'm adding SoCal to the list of options for me. Long live Vannin' 2% forever.


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6 replies
filliperogers June 20 2014 at 8:32 AM

Well we seem to have a new flood at the border of people coming from below mexico now and we are providing housing for them in a heartbeat, its to bad we don't treat american homeless citizens in a prompt and orderly fashion. Governer Perry from Texas does have a point in the fact that all the states shelters are full of of this flood of women and children coming from central america and getting into hurricane season, if a natural disaster strikes his state, the ciitizens of Texas will have no shelters availible for there people. The feds just ignore these facts. Like perry or hate him, he has a valid point.

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2 replies
empressofwyoming filliperogers June 20 2014 at 12:57 PM

Not really. There are plenty enough schools and public buildings to house people who have been evacuated. That is what they do during hurricanes and floods, open up schools, National Guard quarters, etc. Perry is a liar. Am I surprised he has made this claim, knowing most people will not research it and take it hook, line and sinker? No.

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1 reply
glencove empressofwyoming June 20 2014 at 3:56 PM

Schools and public buildings cost a lot of money to heat, clean and maintain. Perry is 100% correct. California is going broke because of all the costs related to giving services to noncitizens.

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l0b0chic0 filliperogers June 20 2014 at 2:38 PM

Perry is an idiot. He only cares about himself and his views and words are self centered and meaningless.

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GARY110252 June 20 2014 at 1:58 AM

Just goes to show what many "cops" are all about...going after homeless people and the poor!

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4 replies
Pllc15 June 20 2014 at 1:30 AM

What about people who prefer living a nomadic lifestyle, traveling and on the go 24/7? I have friends who were on the road for 10 years traveling from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego, Chile in a VW van.

Flag Reply +23 rate up
5 replies
Handsome June 20 2014 at 4:10 AM

I certainly have sympathy for the homeless who are in that position unwillingly, having once lived out of a car myself, but I also understand why these laws were implemented. Back in the early eighties the streets certain parts lf LA, were filled with vans, rv's and cars with homeless people residing in them. If you lived in one of the communites that they decided to park in, you had no where to park. Using Venice as an example, besides the lack of parking for people who lived there, no business' could survive as there was zero places for customers to park. It was also a great problem with people relieving themselves in the streets and bushes of the neighborhoods. As well as car sex. These homeless never chose to live in a delapidated community, where there might be more space available. And many of these people weren't homeless due to a loss of a job, but were willingly leading a bohemian lifestyle, bumming for change, and food, rather than making any effort to contribute.

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4 replies
cenvalref June 20 2014 at 4:02 AM

What stupid law. This would mean all RV's motor homes are illegal to sleep overnite in. I guess people who sell them are selling illegal vehicles..

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2 replies
Luna cenvalref June 20 2014 at 5:01 AM

Good Point..

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1 reply
crbbisque Luna June 20 2014 at 7:06 PM

No. There are many areas where you cannot stay in an RV. In some areas of Florida, the city ordinances keep people from even overnighting in Walmart lots, something that the company supports and encourages. If Venice doesn't want people parking RV in within their orders, that is their right. But to stop someone for riding through in one seems a bit steep.

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ttanner225 cenvalref June 20 2014 at 12:59 PM

What a stupid post. The law applies only to living in a vehicle on a PUBLIC STREET. Get a clue. It's OK on private property (w/permission). Walmart, for one, allows people to use their parking lots. Public camp grounds, private camp grounds, RV parks, your mother's driveway are all OK.

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2 replies
jmason7708 ttanner225 June 20 2014 at 5:11 PM

maybe you should reread the story one lady was arrested while driving to an art fair so maybe your post is stupid

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crbbisque ttanner225 June 20 2014 at 7:08 PM

True but a city can determine if that is acceptable. In areas of Florida you cannot do that even if Walmart sanctions it. All the RV sites tell you to be sure to check. I did get pulled over in my Four Winds 22' in an area of Myrtle Beach. I wasn't even parked or planning to....

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