“But the lawyer,” Judge John Owens interrupted, “you can call it judicial abuse. . . you can also call it judicial frustration – where we have a judge who really wants to find a solution here – and in his opinion there has been a dismal failure on the part of the elected officials in Los Angeles who are supposed to be tasked with resolving this issue. So what is he supposed to do if he sees this violation happening? Is he just supposed to sit back and watch Los Angeles continue to fall apart? Is that what he’s supposed to do? Or should he take action and shake things up? “
In the midst of the televised hearing before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, Federal District Judge David O. Carter went too far with his sweeping order that the City and County of Los Angeles find housing for the homeless in Skid Row. In argument, city and county attorneys (who are appealing this order) vehemently denounced Judge Carter for “legislating on the bench.”
Yet when Judge Owens questioned Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Michael Walsh’s charge of “excessive judicial power,” Walsh struggled to respond. He eventually fell back on the argument that “there is not necessarily a constitutional solution to every social problem”. Walsh acknowledged that “there is every reason to be frustrated because this is such a big and complicated problem. It really is a crisis. But apparently for the county, five people dying every day on the streets of Skid Row is not a crisis urgent enough to warrant legal intervention.
Lawyer Matthew Umhofer, representing the LA Human Rights Alliance, which has filed a lawsuit against the city and county to force action against homelessness, argued the other side. . He cited the testimony of LA board member Kevin De Leon, who told Judge Carter that Skid Row is “an open-air prison for marginalized people, especially people of color.” Umhofer insisted that conditions there pose “immediate danger” and urged the judges to respect Carter’s order. He rejected city and county arguments that homelessness should be left to politicians to resolve. “They get agitated and they fail,” he said. “They are failing on an epic level.”
Another perspective was offered by lawyer Shayla Myers representing the homeless advocacy group LA-CAN. Myers did not defend the city or county, but argued that by focusing on Skid Row (an earlier order had demanded housing for those living under freeways), Carter would divert resources from other parts of the country. county. She claimed it would “exacerbate homelessness,” insisting that money spent to provide temporary shelter would be diverted from building needed permanent supportive housing. Umhofer retorted that the city had produced only 489 units of such housing in the past four years, woefully insufficient for the needs of the thousands “exposed to violence, disease and the elements” on the streets today.
The judges ended the hearing without announcing a decision. What is indisputable is that the status quo is intolerable. Tens of thousands of people living in tents on sidewalks, parks and beaches are a man-made disaster. It’s not just Judge Carter who is frustrated – the public is clearly at the end of their rope. Voters are not going to sit idly by and watch LA continue to disintegrate. Winning a call won’t get the city and county out of the mess we find ourselves in. If politicians don’t quickly make visible progress in securing housing and getting people off the streets, they will face a judgment that does not appeal from angry voters fed up with failure epic.
Rick Cole is a former mayor of Pasadena and has served as city manager in Azusa, Ventura, and Santa Monica. He can be contacted at [email protected]