Shelter dogged by legal questions

Once-homeless man's claim that rules limiting who can stay at Alternative Sleeping Location wends its way through the judicial system.

June 06, 2013|By Bryce Alderton

A U.S. District Court judge has tossed out all but one of a man's claims against Laguna Beach and the Police Department related to how the homeless are treated in the city.

Leonard Porto's claim that the city's rules regarding who is eligible to stay at the Alternative Sleeping Location are unconstitutional will now go before another judge. Porto, who filed the suit in March when he was sleeping in his 1968 Chevy Camaro, anticipates the claim to be heard next year.

District Judge David Carter, in his Santa Ana courtroom, affirmed Magistrate Judge Marc Goldman's ruling that Porto did not have legal standing to sue the Laguna Beach Police Department for alleged misconduct in its treatment of the homeless.


But the judge did find a sticking point with the city's requirements, enacted in 2009, that lay out who is allowed to sleep at the ASL.

The city requires that the person have strong ties to the community, attended local schools from grades K-12 and proved to the police that he or she has been homeless in Laguna Beach for at least 18 months prior to Nov. 3, 2009.

People who do not meet the local requirements can sleep at the shelter only if it is not at capacity, City Manager John Pietig said in an email.

The ASL's 45 beds are full nearly every night, said Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter.

The shelter maintains a guest list for non-Laguna Beach residents, Price said, and a lottery is held for those on the list when beds become available.

On average, 14 to 15 shelter guests are non-locals, though Price said the number fluctuates depending on weather and time of the month.

"Some people receive disability benefits and when they get a check, they might spend a night in a hotel," she said.

Porto, 57, claimed he was denied access to sleep at the ASL in Laguna Canyon, even though he has taken showers and eaten meals there, because the police failed to put him on a list of homeless locals. He said the locals-first regulation was enacted in 2009.

The argument didn't pass muster with Goldman, who wrote in his Jan. 23 ruling: "Plaintiff has not shown that he has a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in access to the ASL."

The city said Porto's lawsuit was brought by a man quick to file complaints.

"I am going to defend my rights any time I am attacked," Porto said in a follow-up email.

The ASL lawsuit is Porto's third and second against Laguna Beach.

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