Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich attended the Venice Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday night and addressed concerns ranging from enforcing laws related to the homeless to prosecuting political protesters to medical marijuana clinics.
Trutanich, 60, lost in his bid to become the county's district attorney in the June 5 primary and has announced that he will seek re-election as city attorney. Trutanich, who was elected as city attorney in 2009, spoke for about an hour to a crowd of about 75 people.
Before the question and answer session began, Trutanich opened his talk by clarifying his role as city attorney. He explained that he acts as an independent legal advisor to the council, mayor and city departments and represents the city in all legal manners.
"Sometimes you give advice and you take heat for it, but at the end of the day that's your job. You have to give good, solid legal advice," Trutanich said.
In terms of Venice issues, Trutanich read from his notes and cited the oversize parking ordinance, the RV waste dumping prosecutions and the tagger injunction as some of the recent legal matters reviewed by his office.
Trutanich said the city attorney's office has had a high rate of success prosecution despite budgetary staffing constraints. When he first took office, the office staffed 637 lawyers, he said, but the staff count is now at 493. To make up for budget and staffing shortfalls, the city is taking up more consumer protection cases, explained Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher. The funds from the civil penalties in these cases allows city attorney's office to maintain an overall budget surplus.
After Trutanich's made his initial remarks, he tackled audience concerns about various public health and safety issues.
A Venice resident opened the questioning by asking whether the settlement in the Jones v. City of Los Angeles case that allows homeless individuals to sleep on Skid Row sidewalks from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. due to the lack of supportive housing applies to the Venice Beach boardwalk. Trutanich said the ruling doesn't apply because Ocean Front Walk is part of Venice Beach park and overnight sleeping on the boardwalk would violate the city park curfew.
Trutanich also said the city was appealing a federal district court's preliminary injunction in the Lavan v. City of Los Angeles case that protects the property of homeless people on Skid Row.
"The ruling is unclear and erroneous," Trutanich said. "We must be cautious while the court of appeals is considering extending the junction."
Although he said he wishes to maintain the "spirit of the law," which is to protect private property, he said the ruling ultimately presents a public health and safety hazard.
Venice resident Peggy Lee Kennedy spoke out in protest of this view, which she called the "criminalization" of homelessness. Instead, she said, the city should be spending its funds on "positive solutions to homelessness." One potential solution could be to increase housing for the homeless, she added.
"Housing is one option, but our legal action is a short term fix for an issue that requires a long-term solution," Trutanich said. "At the end of the day, the city of Los Angeles has to find something other than the streets for people to live on."
Another Venice resident criticized Trutanich's alleged involvement in what the resident called the "persecution of political protesters" during the "Occupy LA" protests. He said he thought the prosecution of political protesters was trivial and unnecessary considering the city's immense budget shortfalls.
In response, Trutanich said although he and his office are "all for protecting speech," certain protester conduct, such as throwing objects at police officers, calls for legal action. His office does not conduct arrests, but it does file cases based on Los Angeles Police Department reports. He added that most of the cases "Occupy LA" protesters who were arrested were referred to the "Alternative Prosecution Program," a training program on First Amendment Rights.
Another community member voiced his concerns about the allegedly illegal activities of the medical marijuana clinics in his neighborhood.
The City Attorney's office does not actively regulate these clinics, Trutanich said. The office will, however, investigate complaints filed by neighbors regarding illegal clinic sales of marijuana.
Trutanich ended his talk by saying that his office welcomes suggestions and ideas on how to resolve public health and safety concerns.
"We don't have the lock on answers, if you have solution or ideas, send them to us," Trutanich said. "We are trying, we are struggling with situations that are not pleasant, … but we will go to our clients and express these solutions."