A law banning homeless people from living in their cars was struck down on Thursday by a California appeals court that ruled it “opens the door to discriminatory enforcement” against the poor and is unconstitutionally vague.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the initial ban came as a response to an increase in crime by homeless people who were dumping trash on private property, parking recreational vehicles and domiciling them for extended periods. Deputy City Atty. Blithe Bock said, “People were coming home and finding refuse on their front lawn.” Moreover, officials argued that the law established safety and protected public health because many of the vehicles were inundated with garbage, pets, and personal belongings.
However, the 1983 law became unpopular when a 2010 special LAPD task force got overzealous in their response to citizens’ complaints. A lawsuit filed in a U.S. district court accused police of making “harassing stops,” claiming “bogus assertions of equipment failures,” such as a nonfunctioning taillight. “It’s just a continuation of the pressure to move the poor of Venice out of town — long-term residents who don’t fit the desires of the new population that’s moving in,” said Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reasoned that, the way the law was written, it could be interpreted that “any driver in Los Angeles who eats food or transports personal belongings in his or her vehicle,” could be subject to the ban. However, the court stated that “It appears to be applied only to the homeless.”
Ultimately, the court concluded that police officers were inconsistent in how they applied the law, rendering it “incompatible with the concept of an evenhanded administration of the law to the poor and to the rich that is fundamental to a democratic society.