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Appeals Court Hears Arguments In City's Bid To Vacate Ruling That All Skid Row Residents Be Offered Shelter By October

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - A federal appeals court heard arguments Wednesday in the city and county of Los Angeles' bid to vacate a judge's order forcing the city to offer shelter to every homeless person on Skid Row by the middle of October, but made no ruling on the matter.

U.S. District Judge David Carter issued the mandatory injunction against the city in April. Carter's ruling requires that all homeless inhabitants of Skid Row must be offered some form of shelter by Oct. 18, beginning with single women and unaccompanied children.

Los Angeles Seeks To Increase Restrictions On Homeless Sleeping On Sidewalks
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 16: People walk past a homeless tent encampment in Skid Row on September 16, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Skid Row is home to thousands who either live on the streets or in shelters. The city of Los Angeles has seen a 16 percent increase in homelessness since 2018 amidst a housing crisis. A new plan under consideration in the city would bar homeless people from sleeping on sidewalks and streets in more than 25 percent of Los Angeles. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Both the city and county immediately appealed the ruling, requesting that the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals issue a stay pending the appeal.

The LA Alliance for Human Rights, an association of downtown residents, unhoused individuals and property owners working to compel local governments to find shelter for the thousands of people camping on city sidewalks, brought the lawsuit in federal court in March 2020.

City and county attorneys argued that Judge Carter's extraordinary order violates the separation of powers, removing power from elected officials, and would interfere with local government's ability to deal with the crisis.

Arguing for the county, Mira Hashmall said the injunction doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a particular injury caused by the county.

Further, Carter "rewrote the case to be about racial discrimination" when there's "no evidence the county has engaged in any racial discrimination," she said.

"Federal judges are not supposed to wade into political waters such as these," Hashmall said, adding that judges "cannot legislate from the bench."

Deputy City Attorney Michael Walsh said Carter's court has "identified its own policy preferences in terms of how best to deal with homelessness ... and has disregarded the rule of law to impose those policy preferences through a sweeping order, rather than the decisions made by the city's elected officials -- which is judicial overreach of the worst sort."

The shelter order "simply cannot be upheld" without a valid legal theory or proof of a constitutional violation, of which there are none, Walsh argued.

Judge John Owens then asked whether Carter's order might actually be the result, not of overreach, but "judicial frustration, where we have a judge who really wants to figure out a solution here and, in his opinion, there's been a dismal, dismal failure by the elected officials in Los Angeles who are supposedly charged with fixing this.

"So what is he supposed to do if he sees this violation going on?" Owens said. "Is he supposed to just sit back and watch Los Angeles continue to disintegrate in this area or should he take some action and make something happen?"

Asked by Owens whether stepping up settlement discussions might be a better way to resolve the case, Walsh said "there's always the possibility."

Attorney Shayla Myers, arguing on behalf of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, an intervenor in the case, said it was a "rare circumstance that would bring LA CAN to the same side as the city and the county. But the preliminary injunction at issue in this case is that circumstance."

Myers said L.A. Alliance has failed to show that the public interest is served by the mandatory order. The order would "actually exacerbate the homelessness crisis," displace indigent people in areas outside of Skid Row, and "cause significant uncertainty" among those experiencing homelessness and service providers.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen indicated that "at a minimum" the appeals panel probably should send the case back to Carter for further hearings.

As for the plaintiffs, L.A. Alliance attorney Matthew Umhofer said the judge's order is not intended to disrupt ongoing efforts but to focus on the "human tragedy" at the epicenter of homelessness in the region -- Skid Row.

It was not known when the appeals court would issue its ruling.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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