LOS ANGELES (AP) — The city of Los Angeles cannot seize property left temporarily unattended on sidewalks by Skid Row's homeless residents, a federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday in a denying an appeal by the city.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that found the city's confiscation of homeless people's bundles violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure.
One of the three judges dissented, agreeing with the city that unattended personal property can be seized in the public interest of health and safety.
Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said the office would evaluate whether to continue the appeal by requesting a review by the full appellate court, but noted the city is complying with an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez in June 2011.
Under that ruling, the city must store items taken from sidewalks for up to 90 days and leave a notice directing property owners to the storage site so they can retrieve them. The city is permitted to discard hazardous items and trash.
"The city will clean its streets and maintain its public safety," Carter said. "The city is obligated to do that by the health department."
Property seizures have long been an issue in Skid Row, which houses the nation's densest concentration of homeless people, and other areas frequented by transients.
City officials maintain that the possessions, which can resemble abandoned junk, pose a health and safety hazard, and violate a city ordinance against leaving property in the public right of way. But eight homeless people sued the city last year, saying the property seizures were unreasonable.
They said they left their bundles for as little as 10 minutes so they could attend to personal errands, such as taking a shower or eating a meal at a nearby mission. And when they returned, their belongings were gone.
The plaintiffs said they lost valuable documents and medications, as well as personal items such as family photos.
After last year's court ruling, some homeless people started using sidewalks as storage for piles of bulky items, such as furniture. The court said sidewalks cannot be used to permanently store items or to abandon items.