City Hall has answered a lawsuit filed by the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union on July 14 in U.S. District Court against City Hall and the Santa Monica Police Department.
ACLU Legal Director Mark D. Rosenbaum claimed City Hall and the SMPD were “violating the constitutional rights of chronically homeless people by arresting and harassing them” and “waging a war against poor persons.”
I wrote two columns about the suit (July 27 and Aug. 3) commenting that the ACLU’s complaint was “riddled with factual errors, tortured reasoning and faulty conclusions.” The ACLU and its pro-bono legal firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP parroted complaints from alleged homeless persons and disgruntled homeless services case workers from one or more of the city-subsidized services and failed to do proper research.
Here are the highlights of City Hall’s response:
The ACLU’s complaint stated that Santa Monica didn’t do enough to help the homeless. City Hall responded mentioning a long list of services and programs it funds — “a total of $5.4 million for direct services and housing for homeless people.” City Hall’s answer also mentioned the Homeless Court and the SMPD’s “Homeless Liaison Program (HLP team) of specialized law enforcement officers that focuses on homeless related issues in the city and outreach efforts.
The lawsuit stated there was a cap on homeless funding. City Hall responded that it “did not maintain any cap in funding” and had “increased funding over the past several years” and said City Hall spends $60 per resident for services to homeless persons within the city.
The response says the defendants (City Hall) couldn’t admit or deny numerous (unsubstantiated) allegations and claims contained in the ACLU complaint. It then responded that the ACLU’s half-dozen plaintiffs had unpaid warrants, were in violation of court orders, or had been warned, cited or arrested numerous times for violations of various municipal ordinances that prohibit “presence in a park during closure hours … ” and “lying down in an entrance or doorways in the downtown or Main Street areas” where there are signs posted prohibiting such conduct among other offenses.
Referring to plaintiff Nadine Chlubna, the ACLU claimed, “The city provides no other place for her to sleep,” and that the SMPD routinely harassed or told her to “move on” or “go back up north.” City Hall responded that Chlubna voluntarily removed herself from city-provided housing and services, disobeyed court ordered stay-away orders and refused to participate in Santa Monica’s Homeless Community Court.
The ACLU asserted plaintiff Keith Greene was “arrested for sleeping outside a local shelter.” He was actually arrested for three outstanding warrants and violation of a municipal ordinance that prohibits camping on a public sidewalk.
The ACLU claimed Alejandra Solana “had been arrested and taken to jail three times by the SMPD for sleeping in public.” City Hall responded, “between 2004 and 2009 said plaintiff was arrested on seven separate dates for various offenses including camping, outstanding warrants and petty theft.”
City Hall denied the ACLU’s allegation there were “only 180 beds available in Santa Monica shelters.” The city countered, “Approximately 673 emergency, transitional and permanent housing beds are available year round.”
It appears to me that the ACLU’s presentation of distorted facts and gross misinformation about services provided, its plaintiffs and alleged misdeeds by the SMPD is amateurish, inexcusable and reeks of a desperate attempt at seeking headlines.
In the Affirmative Defense section of its answer, the city attorney said, “The complaint and each cause of action therein fails to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against defendants upon which relief may be granted.” In other words, the ACLU and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP didn’t do their research and have no case. The city confirmed it, “has no policy, pattern, custom or practice of training or engaging in the deprivation of any constitutional or statutory rights as alleged in the complaint.”
My favorite statement is, “Plaintiffs have not made factual allegations sufficient to establish that homelessness or poverty is a protected class under the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or a disability… or that any acts of omissions by the defendants (Santa Monica) as alleged… constituted cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment or subjected plaintiffs to unreasonable searches and seizures within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”
The city therefore concludes the plaintiffs are not entitled to injunctive relief, fees or costs and requests attorney fees and costs incurred in connection with its defense.
Because Santa Monica provides services to the world’s homeless attracted here by our wide array of services, programs and handouts, it’s too bad the city attorney didn’t cross-complain the 80-plus surrounding municipalities that provide little or nothing to help the homeless.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.