LOS ANGELES (CN) — The landmark lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles that refuses to go away is still not going away, after a federal judge on Thursday rejected a proposed settlement that would have seen LA County spend an additional $850 million on services and outreach.
U.S. District Judge David Carter said he had "grave concerns" about the deal because it did not include a clause that he previously asked for — direct jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement for the next five years, a clause the city's settlement included.
"You give me absolutely no oversight and no enforcement," Carter told the county. "I have to have accountability to sign off on this. While I may trust you, I don’t know who your successor is."
After the hearing, County Supervisor Janice Hahn said she had wanted to include the judicial oversight clause.
"It was something I tried to convince my colleagues was important," Hahn said. "I could not get them to agree to that component. They prefer to hold ourselves accountable, have the public hold us accountable."
Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who attended the hearing, along with Hahn and LA City Council President Paul Krekorian, was opposed to handing Carter direct oversight, arguing transparency is more important.
"I agree that accountability is key," said Horvath. "We agreed to public reporting in our meetings. We don’t want this to happen behind closed doors."
Not only did Carter reject the proposed agreement, he removed the stay — meaning litigation between LA Alliance for Human Rights and the county will restart immediately.
LA Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of downtown residents, businesses and service providers, sued in March 2020 and initially sought a "right to shelter" law. The case made national headlines in 2021 when Carter dropped a bombshell of a ruling, ordering the city and county to house every homeless person living on Skid Row within 180 days. He also ordered the $1 billion the city had earmarked for homeless spending to be frozen. But the Ninth Circuit struck down that order, finding Carter had "impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence."
Since then, the case has proceeded in a more subdued fashion with the parties — the city, county and the alliance — meeting with the Judge in a series of closed negotiations. In April 2022, the city of LA unilaterally settled with the alliance, agreeing to build between 14,000 and 16,000 units of housing — either temporary shelter units or permanent housing — within five years, at a cost of between $2.4 billion and $3 billion. That effort, they said, would house 60% of of the city's unhoused population who were not experiencing drug addiction or serious mental illness, a population the city has always contended is the county's responsibility to care for.
It was hardly the dramatic, game-changing outcome Carter and the plaintiffs had once sought. But it signaled a shift toward an emphasis on emergency shelters rather than on permanent supportive housing. LA's new mayor, Karen Bass, has continued to focus on getting people off the street and into temporary housing, and has pledged to shelter or house 17,000 people during her first year in office.
In September 2022, the county reached an agreement with the alliance in which it offered to spend an additional $236 million over the next five years on increased services and outreach, and to pay for an additional 300 beds for homeless people struggling with addiction or mental illness. Carter rejected the proposal, saying, "I believe we can do better."
The latest agreement, announced Wednesday, included a pledge to spend an additional $850.5 million on services, outreach and interim housing, including 1,000 new beds for homeless people experiencing drug addiction and mental illness, and subsidies for 450 board and care beds, which are managed privately.