While efforts are underway to curb effects of RVs and other oversize vehicles lining the streets of Venice and other Westside areas, several individuals living in their vehicles have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that they have been targeted for enforcement because they are homeless and are exempt from city parking restrictions.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Santa Monica attorney Carol Sobel and two other law firms filed the lawsuit for injunctive relief on behalf of vehicular homeless individuals in Venice, alleging that the city of Los Angeles has violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights. The plaintiffs are all longtime residents of Venice who say that either illness or economic misfortune caused them to lose their homes.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Nov. 23, charges that the Los Angeles Police Department has targeted vehicles in the area for selective enforcement on the basis that the owners are homeless and park on public streets. Some of the plaintiffs allege in the complaint that the police department has conducted traffic stops of their vehicles to issue citations for minor problems such as a turn signal that is kept on.
In addition, the lawsuit accuses the LAPD of enforcing parking laws against the plaintiffs, who are exempted from such restrictions because their vehicles have disability placards or license plates. Police and parking enforcement employees have told plaintiffs that they must enforce the parking laws regardless of whether the vehicles are exempt due to disability plates, the plaintiffs claim.
“In the city’s blind rage against the homeless in Venice they’ve decided to intentionally target and ticket people who have disabled plates and placards and are parking where they are legally allowed to park,” Sobel said.
“Consistently across the board, (the plaintiffs) have been told by police that they are not getting slack just because they are disabled.”
Under the law, vehicles with disabled plates or placards are exempt from parking restrictions unless no one can park in the spot such as a red zone, Sobel noted. The exemptions would also apply to the oversize vehicle law, which was recently passed by the Los Angeles City Council and allows residents to petition for restrictions banning the overnight parking of vehicles taller than 6 feet or longer than 22 feet.
The law was approved as the city has been trying to address an ongoing problem of RVs parking on Venice streets for extended periods with residents concerned about health and environmental impacts. One effort has been to establish a program where vehicle owners, who will be displaced by the oversize restrictions and meet certain qualifications, can park safely overnight in lots as they transition into housing.
The lawsuit additionally alleges that the defendants have engaged in unlawful conduct aimed at deterring and preventing the plaintiffs from traveling or parking on public streets and in beach parking lots, as well as threatened them with arrest if they are present in Venice.
“It clearly violates their right to travel as well,” Sobel alleged of the city’s actions.
“They’re criminalizing (the plaintiffs’) mere presence in the city.”
City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan said the office has not yet been officially served with a copy of the lawsuit. While city attorneys are aware of the filing, Mateljan said they have declined to comment until they have reviewed the complaint.
Venice Community Housing Corporation Executive Director Steve Clare said he is “discouraged and saddened by the approach the city is taking” to address the issue of vehicular homelessness, adding that many of the RVs have been pushed to surrounding neighborhoods like Mar Vista.
“This hasn’t solved our problem. The city is not coming to grips with this fundamental issue and it needs to,” Clare said.
Clare said he and others have been concerned for some time that people with disabilities would be targeted under the city’s parking enforcement, and he noted that the lawsuit emphasizes an alleged campaign of harassment by police with regards to the disabled.
But resident Mark Ryavec, who has advocated for implementing overnight parking restrictions, rejected the claim that disabled people in vehicles are being targeted.
“I think it’s the reverse; it’s not that they’re targeting folks, it’s that there are so many who do have disabled placards, and in many cases illegally,” said Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association.
Ryavec said he believes police are acting within their duties by citing people who are violating Municipal Code 85.02, which prohibits people from sleeping in their vehicles.
“My impression is that the police are completely in their bounds in citing folks who are violating 85.02,” he said.
Claiming that many of the disabled placards displayed in vehicles are fraudulent, Ryavec took issue with the disabled placards being exempt from the oversize parking restrictions.
“For me it’s an oxymoron to allow the placards to be exempted from the (oversize law). The point is to get the vehicles off the street and free up parking for the residents,” he said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl did not have a chance to review the lawsuit and declined to comment on the specific allegations, but said the city has been “very sensitive” to dealing with concerns on the disabled exemptions. In regards to addressing the ongoing issue of people living in their vehicles, the councilman said he has tried to find a balanced approach with the safe overnight parking program and the oversize vehicle law.
“I’m finding a balanced, delicate approach,” Rosendahl said. “It started with the vehicles to homes program, and we’re now doing an inventory of those folks to see who wants to participate.”
Though he did not speak directly to the lawsuit accusations, Rosendahl said he is pleased with the support he has received from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the Pacific division in handling the challenging homelessness issues of his district.
“I’m very proud of how the LAPD has been operating, the councilman said. “They’ve shown extremely sensitive leadership on a very critical issue.”