PPCC Supports Amicus Brief in Boise Homeless Case

Pacific Palisades Community Council joins Brentwood Community Council to asks Supreme Court to overturn ruling preventing cities from enforcing homeless laws

By Sam Catanzaro

The Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC) has signed onto a Brentwood Community Council (BCC) amicus brief in support of the City of Boise’s pitch to the United States Supreme Court to overturn a district court ruling that prevents cities from penalizing sleeping on sidewalks. 

A federal court ruling last year in the case Martin v. City of Boise barred cities from punishing individuals from sleeping on public property unless they provide sufficient and accessible indoor housing.

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property,” reads the ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes both Idaho and California. 

“The Palisades community has also been severely impacted by homelessness. Homeless individuals sleep on our sidewalks and camp in our ocean bluffs and park areas in the midst of residential neighborhoods (all of which are designated High Fire Hazard Severity Zones), resulting in dangerous fire conditions and other threats to public health and safety.

Pacific Palisades Community Council

In the decision, which ruled a City of Boise law penalizing homelessness unconstitutional, citing the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the court did give cities leeway to prohibit sleeping in public in certain situations. 

On August 22 the City of Boise filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Martin v. City of Boise, formally asking the Supreme Court to consider the case.

“If the 9th Circuit’s ruling is allowed to stand then cities will not have the tools they need to prevent a humanitarian crisis on their own streets. We hope the Supreme Court takes this case to restore the power of local communities to regulate the use of their streets, parks, and other public areas,” said Mayor Boise Dave Bieter.

“Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible,” the decision reads. 

Since Boise filed this request many local jurisdictions have filed amicus briefs in support of the city’s effort to have the 9th Circuit Court decision overturned. On September 17, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to support Boise. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl who represents Pacific Palisades, however, voted against supporting Boise. 

On September 20, the BCC submitted an amicus brief supporting Boise, saying the ruling only will make the homeless crisis worse, an action supported by the PPCC. 

Its ruling creates confusion and inhibits the ability of local governments to effectively and humanely manage the homeless crisis and protect the health and safety of all their citizens

Brentwood Community Council

“The Palisades community has also been severely impacted by homelessness. Homeless individuals sleep on our sidewalks and camp in our ocean bluffs and park areas in the midst of residential neighborhoods (all of which are designated High Fire Hazard Severity Zones), resulting in dangerous fire conditions and other threats to public health and safety. While our respected local volunteer organization – the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness – has had some success, due to our unique conditions, in reducing hazardous encampments, we remain concerned with ongoing impacts on public health and safety should there be a future determination that our bluffs and park areas (public property) are not subject to regulation of overnight camping under the Ninth Circuit decision in Martin v. City of Boise,” wrote Christina Spitz, Secretary, for George Wolfberg, Chair, PPCC. 

According to the brief filed by the BCC, 9th Circuit ruling in Boise casts uncertainty on Los Angeles camping bans in high fire areas and other health and safety ordinances while also failing to provide clarity on any middle ground between reasonable camping and sleeping ordinances.

“Its ruling creates confusion and inhibits the ability of local governments to effectively and humanely manage the homeless crisis and protect the health and safety of all their citizens, both the homeless and sheltered,” reads the brief. “By eliminating rational tools for governmental bodies to protect their citizens’ health, safety, and welfare, the homelessness crisis is not going to be solved – it is going to get worse,” writes the BCC. 

The BCC says that real-world experiences of unregulated encampments in neighborhoods like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades impact the daily lives of residents. 

 “The 2017 Skirball Fire was caused by a homeless cookfire. It destroyed 422 acres, burned down 6 houses and damaged 12 more. Pacific Palisades has dealt with the same issue. We fear any wiggle room in the 9th Circuit opinion to contest these safety ordinances. The current City and County ordinances are in effect today, but they can be challenged under the 9th Circuit ruling in Boise,” the BCC said. “LA firefighters are now extinguishing almost seven fires a day started at homeless encampments or tents in neighborhoods across the city.” 

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