A Santa Monica attorney has filed a legal claim against the city of Los Angeles on behalf of homeless individuals who lost personal belongings in the cleaning of a Venice street last month where dozens of homeless have been sleeping.
The claim for damages filed by attorney Carol Sobel seeks a minimum of $4,000 for each person whose property was seized in a cleanup by the city Bureau of Sanitation March 7 along Third Avenue in Venice. The legal claim is a prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit against the city over the incident, according to Sobel’s office.
Another street sweep of the area was conducted March 29, when the city announced that personal belongings would be taken unless the owner were present, but while trash and other items were cleared, no property was seized.
The actions have come after more homeless people have been seen on area streets following the enforcement of an overnight curfew on the Venice Boardwalk and the closure of the Westside winter shelter program. One activist said up to 50 people have been sleeping near Third Avenue on some nights.
Sobel did not return phone calls for comment on the claim for damages. A spokesman for the city attorney’s office said the office has not been served with a copy of the claim. City officials have argued that street cleanups are periodically conducted to help keep sidewalks cleared for safety issues.
Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, said she was concerned that no advanced notice was given to the homeless prior to the street action March 7. “There’s no excuse not to give a warning,” she said.
Homeless activist David Busch sees the incidents in which the personal items of those living on the street are taken as an attack on people who are part of the culture of Venice.
“What this is all about is the larger picture of an attack on the eclectic nature of Venice,” said Busch, who added that many of the street dwellers are artists. “The street scene of Venice is part of what makes Venice Beach Venice and is part of what draws millions of people here.”
Following the March 7 street cleanup, only a handful of the people were able to retrieve their belongings, Busch noted. The items included blankets, sleeping bags, art supplies, medication, basic living needs and identification documents, he said.
Busch said that activists have been reaching out to the city for weeks seeking more cooperation in addressing the homeless issues, and he believes that it should not have led to a damages claim being filed.
“It should never have come to this. The community of Venice is bigger than this and we need to prove that we can solve these problems cooperatively,” he said.
Lucks said the actions to clear the sidewalks of homeless items are not solution-based and officials need to find real solutions to improve the local homelessness problem.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he could not comment on the specific incident targeted in the legal claim, but when he was made aware of the March 29 action, he “did everything I could conceivably do” to ensure the homeless’ property was not seized as part of the cleanup. Noting that sidewalk clearings are performed to address health and safety issues, Rosendahl encouraged people to keep watch over their belongings that could be considered abandoned property if they’re not around.
“It’s very difficult to deal with people’s belongings when they’re not there,” the councilman said. “In the general sense, people need to keep an eye on their possessions so they’re not perceived as anything but their possessions.”
The city is planning to do similar sweeps once a month in Venice areas where sidewalks are blocked but Rosendahl stressed that proper notice will be given ahead of time so people can keep track of their possessions.
“We will give them plenty of notice to get in compliance with the fact that we’re going to clean the street,” he said.
Rosendahl pointed out that the larger issue is how to connect the homeless to more services including permanent supportive housing, and the city needs to receive more resources from the federal government to better handle a problem that is not isolated to Venice.