Judge tosses lawsuit challenging Mayor Karen Bass’ emergency declaration on homelessness

A judge handed a legal victory to the city of Los Angeles on Thursday, agreeing to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to strike down Mayor Karen Bass’ declaration of a city emergency on homelessness and housing.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Curtis A. Kin granted a request from the city’s lawyers to toss the lawsuit from Fix the City, a Westside-based organization that had called the emergency declaration a “vast and illegal expansion of mayoral power.”

Bass declared an emergency on homelessness on her first day in office in December 2022, promising “a sea change in how the city tackles homelessness.” In July 2023, she signed an updated emergency declaration on homelessness and housing, after the council passed a new law spelling out the criteria needed to make such a declaration.

The emergency declaration provided the mayor’s team the power to award contracts, enter into lease agreements, suspend competitive bidding, commandeer property and lift regulations on the production of affordable housing, among other things.

Lawyers for Fix the City argued that Bass was prohibited from making such a declaration, in part because city law defines a local emergency as an “occurrence” beyond the control of normal government operations. An emergency, those attorneys said, applies to a sudden or unexpected event, such as an earthquake or flood.

“While tragic, homelessness and affordable housing concerns are not ‘an occurrence,’ and are instead chronic conditions which have plagued the city for decades,” the group said in its lawsuit.

Fix the City also argued that the emergency declaration violated state laws, including the California Emergency Services Act, which defines a local emergency as the existence of conditions of “disaster or of extreme peril” caused by fire, flood, storm, epidemic, riot, cyberterrorism or various other events.

Kin sided with the city’s legal team, concluding that L.A.’s law on homelessness emergencies is not in conflict with either city or state laws. He also disagreed with Fix the City’s assessment that the emergency declaration ran afoul of a law aimed at ensuring that local governments engage in competitive bidding.

An aide to Bass did not immediately comment on the judge’s decision. City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto, in a statement, said she is “pleased” her office succeeded in defending the homeless emergency ordinance. The mayor’s emergency declaration, and subsequent initiatives, have sped up the city’s progress in “getting people the help that’s so urgently needed,” Feldstein Soto said.

Mike Eveloff, president of Fix the City, called the ruling “logically, factually and legally wrong.”

“We’re going to appeal immediately,” he said.

Under the ordinance approved last summer, the mayor has the power to declare an emergency on homelessness and housing if L.A.’s unhoused population is more than two times the number of the city’s interim homeless beds. An emergency also can be declared if L.A.’s housing supply is projected to be at least 40% below its annual production goals, or if the city’s homeless population has increased by more than 20% in a single year.

The emergency declaration has made it possible for Bass’ team to enter into lease agreements with dozens of hotels and motels, which have been used as temporary housing as part of the mayor’s Inside Safe initiative.

The declaration also allowed Bass to issue Executive Directive 1, which has dramatically sped up the city’s approval of residential projects deemed 100% affordable. Last month, Bass said that more than 16,000 affordable housing units had entered the city’s pipeline since the start of the ED1 program.

Fix the City has sued the city government many times, seeking to limit certain types of development. The group sued last year to stop Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky’s plan to open an interim homeless facility on Pico Boulevard on L.A.’s Westside, saying it violated state environmental law.

In its most recent lawsuit, Fix the City sought unsuccessfully to rescind not just the mayor’s emergency declaration but also ED 1. That initiative has allowed 100% affordable housing projects to bypass review from the city’s Planning Commission, shortening the approval process by several months.

#Judge #tosses #lawsuit #challenging #Mayor #Karen #Bass #emergency #declaration #homelessness

Leave a Comment