City Asks for Review of Anti-Camping Laws

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

The cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach recently joined the California State Association of Counties and 31 other cities in filing an amici curiae brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appellate decision on enforcing anti-camping laws.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Martin v. Boise prevents agencies from busting homeless encampments without making shelter beds available.

“It raises a number of important issues concerning the plight of homelessness and responsibilities of local agencies with respect to those issues,” Laguna Beach City Attorney Phil Kohn said.

Last month, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter approved Laguna Beach’s settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by homeless advocates over how it shelters homeless individuals. The deal allows the city to continue enforcing anti-camping and loitering laws and establishes an alternative that sends disputes over homeless issues to Carter, instead of new litigation.

Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said the city must be able to enforce the anti-camping law to allow public spaces to be used by the entire public, not just one particular group of people. He added that the Ninth Circuit decision in Martin v. Boise created serious financial implications for relatively small cities like Laguna Beach.

“I’m happy to be responsible for the people who became homeless while they were living in Laguna Beach,” he said. “My problem is I don’t think someone who is in Kansas City and homeless should say, ‘I would rather be in Laguna Beach.’”

In a prepared statement, the California State Association of Counties said it feels everyone can benefit from more clarity that would come with the Supreme Court reviewing Martin v. Boise.

“California Counties are on the frontlines providing services to and responding to the

needs of homeless individuals and families in our communities,” the statement said. “The Boise ruling raises many questions, and potential liability, for counties, and we are asking the Supreme Court for greater clarity on implementation expectations.”

The brief cites a federal lawsuit filed against Laguna Beach in 2012 by a homeless computer specialist who lost his Corona del Mar apartment. Leonard Porto III claimed he was being harassed by Laguna Beach police officers for sleeping in his car and the city gave priority to locals seeking shelter. Last year, the Ninth Circuit upheld the trial judge’s ruling against Porto.

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