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June 27, 2017

LAGUNA BEACH — In an important first step toward reform of Laguna Beach’s harsh, inadequate policies on homelessness, a federal court ruled yesterday that the transportation to the city’s sole shelter is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford came as part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Paul Hastings. In a trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 1, the attorneys will argue that several other parts of Laguna Beach’s Homelessness Program violate federal standards for accessibility.

"Just like when a city operates a school or swimming pool, the ADA and Rehab Act require that a homelessness program must be accessible for the persons with disabilities served," said David Hernand, an attorney with Paul Hastings. "We are confident the federal judge hearing this case will agree that Laguna Beach’s Homelessness Program discriminates against individuals with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness and that systemic change is long overdue."

The ruling is especially important because studies have shown that a large percentage of people experiencing homelessness have physical or mental disabilities. The van used to transport homeless people about two miles from the city center, was found to be in violation of federal standards because it lacked ramps and lifts.

The judge has also ruled that the remaining issues in the lawsuit will be tried as a class action that represents all people with disabilities in Laguna Beach experiencing homelessness.

"This is important because of the growing problem of homelessness in one of the wealthiest enclaves in Southern California,” said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the ACLU SoCal. “The reality is that Laguna Beach has adopted a strategy that punishes disabled individuals merely for falling on hard times."

The judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to establish that the city’s practice of ticketing homeless people for sleeping in public — even when they have nowhere else to go — violates their constitutional rights. That ruling can be appealed following the trial.

Read the summary judgement:

Learn more about the case: