LOS ANGELES (AP) — The city of Los Angeles on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse lower court rulings that prevent city workers from summarily removing and destroying homeless people's property left on Skid Row sidewalks.
The move marks the latest in a long-running legal battle between the city and activists for the homeless over storage of homeless people's personal effects.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said allowing homeless people to leave belongings on sidewalks creates a health hazard and violates municipal ordinances.
"We have an obligation to the homeless, as well as to the other residents and businesses on Skid Row, to ensure their health through regularly cleaning Skid Row's streets and sidewalks," Trutanich said in a statement. "The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to us all of just who and what is at risk in this matter."
The Los Angeles Times has reported 11 deaths in nearly 80 cases of the illness since 2007. Most of the victims were homeless people living on downtown streets.
The city has lost four lawsuits over homeless property seizures since 1987.
In the latest lawsuit filed in 2011, eight homeless people said they lost important personal documents, medications, family photos, clothing and electronics when they temporarily left their bundles unattended while they went to shower or eat in nearby shelters or attend court hearings.
A federal judge ruled that street cleaners must leave a notice telling property owners where they can retrieve their belongings and store the items for 90 days. A panel of appellate court judges upheld that ruling. A further appeal by the city for a review by the full appellate court was denied.
Carol Sobel, attorney for the homeless plaintiffs, said the city's appeal to the Supreme Court simply reflects a bias against homeless individuals.
Courts have repeatedly sided with homeless plaintiffs in Los Angeles and other cities in cases involving property confiscation and destruction, she noted, adding that the U.S. Constitution protects people against unlawful search and seizure.
"The government cannot come in and take that property without giving adequate notice and can't just destroy the property," she said.
Part of the problem for city workers is that homeless people's belongings in some cases can resemble trash, the city attorney said.