Monday, January 5, 2015

New Legal Opinion Finds City Can Disband Encampments as “Immediate Threats to Public Health and Safety”

A new legal opinion commissioned by the Venice Stakeholders Association finds that the City of Los Angeles is on strong legal grounds to seize objects left on public sidewalks for days because they pose an immediate threat to public health and safety.

The opinion, prepared by attorney John Henning, focuses on the implications of the “Lavan Decision,” a ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which limited – but did not forbid - the City from removing items that had been left by transients for short periods of time on L.A.’s Skid Row so the owners could go to eat, wash or run errands.

Henning points out that in the Lavan case even “the plaintiffs did not argue – at either the trial court or on appeal - that they had a right to store their possessions for days on end on public property.”

“The City has over-reacted to the Lavan Decision and effectively given transients permission to perpetually store their property on sidewalks across the City, which was not the court’s intent or even the plaintiffs’ request,” said Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association.

“This misinterpretation of the court’s ruling is wreaking havoc on Venice residents,” Ryavec said, “with the establishment of permanent encampments on residential streets adjacent to the Boardwalk, on Third Street and on Venice Boulevard near residences, and recently on Coeur D’Alene Avenue next to two elementary schools.”

Ryavec said, “These encampments spawn a tremendous amount of crime, from trespass, harassment and home invasions to vandalism, public inebriation, defecation and urination.”

“Nearby residents are very concerned and they have good reason considering, for example, the five home invasions since last April in just the few blocks around my home.”

Henning’s opinion states that the City is legally entitled to remove items that comprise an encampment because the encampment itself poses an immediate threat to public health and safety due to the unsanitary conditions that exist in such encampments and their lawless atmosphere.  Removing these encampments was explicitly allowed by the court in the Lavan Decision.

“When there is an ‘immediate threat to public health or safety,’ Lavan does not require the City to give any notice whatsoever before removing private property from the right-of-way,” the VSA attorney noted.  “Although the City may choose to store such property for a period of time in order to allow it to be reclaimed by its owner, the property can be removed from the right-of-way immediately and without notice.” 

(If you wish to have a copy of Mr. Henning's opinion please send an email to