The lawsuit filed by the Southern California ACLU against the city of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Police Department has been dismissed by a federal judge. City Hall and the ACLU agreed on a set of general principals in coming to final a settlement that culminated in dismissal.
The settlement “requires no monetary payment of any kind, no change in any city law, policy or practice and no admission of any fault whatsoever,” said a press statement issued by the City Manager’s office last Tuesday.
The ACLU ballyhooed its ill-advised complaint at a splashy press conference at City Hall last July when it accused the city and the police department of violating the constitutional rights of chronically homeless people by arresting and harassing them. Their complaint asked for an injunction, a jury trial, legal fees and expenses.
According to ACLU Legal Director Mark D. Rosenbaum, the suit was filed on behalf of a half-dozen plaintiffs and claimed the SMPD was waging a war against poor persons and “operating a deportation program” by driving them out of the community.
However, the complaint was riddled with errors, spurious facts and tortured reasoning. For example, claims of “a cap on funding” were totally untrue. Arrests for “loitering” were alleged, but there are no “loitering” statutes on Santa Monica’s books.
The suit accused the city and the SMPD of trying to drive homeless people out of the community. But if that were the case, why does City Hall providing so many services including an outreach team for the police department’s Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) unit and more recently, a mental health evaluator?
It’s obvious the ACLU and its pro-bono legal firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP parroted hearsay from alleged “victims” and disgruntled homeless services case workers — failing to do even basic research or investigation on their own. Even more problematic for the ACLU was the disappearance of many of the plaintiffs (including one who left the country) and others who refused to continue with the lawsuit because they were getting “assistance” from City Hall and the police department.
Desperate to put a positive spin on a major faux pas, Rosenbaum told the Daily Press last week, “We noticed upon filing this suit that the arrests under this ordinance immediately stopped. We went back out and spoke to the homeless and learned that in fact they weren’t being arrested anymore."
Had Rosenbaum done his due diligence, he would have checked the “Arrest and Bookings” reports posted daily on the SMPD’s website and found out that enforcement of ordinances regarding trespassing, park closures, public encampments and other violations have been continually and consistently enforced. More amazingly, he’s still relying on street gossip for information.
The claim by the ACLU that Santa Monica doesn’t do enough for the homeless or have enough homeless resources was particularly aggravating to City Hall’s human services staff, police personnel and many residents. The truth is that Santa Monica does more to end homelessness than virtually any other governmental agency in the country.
The press release noted that Santa Monica has "over 450 shelter beds available to homeless individuals, much more than most other cities in the region.” In addition, there is a Homeless Community Court, Eviction Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program that assists 70 local low-income households, a Service Registry that directs resources to over 400 chronically homeless individuals and Project Homecoming which has reunited over 650 homeless individuals with family and services in their home towns since 2006.
Santa Monica’s taxpayers also fund over 20 non-profit programs to serve the homeless population — spending $5.7 million annually. This substantial investment in ending homelessness has generated a strong return for the community such as “a 19 percent reduction in its homeless population from 2009-2010, and a 25 percent reduction from 2007-2010.”
Mayor Bobby Shriver said that valuable time and resources could have been better spent on more useful litigation and the ACLU and Munger, Tolles & Olson squandered opportunities and resources in pursuing this complaint.
Shriver (who has been fighting for homeless veteran housing on the Brentwood Veterans Administration property for years) suggested that the VA should have been sued “because they have existing housing that’s empty and unused while tens of thousands of homeless vets live in dumpsters and on streets all over the county. The VA is the 800 pound gorilla and much more deserving and worthy of the ACLU’s attention and Munger-Tolles’ talent and abilities. Litigating there will get a better outcome," Shriver told me.
Even though his lawsuit was a major misfire and a complete embarrassment for all involved, the myopic Rosenbaum still has no clue. He recently told the press, “The ACLU will continue to monitor Santa Monica’s treatment of the homeless and could bring a future action based on new evidence if it learns homeless people’s rights are being violated.”
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org