Expert: Constitution allows LA to “commandeer” hotels for homeless housing

One day after a Los Angeles city councilman suggested that the city look at “commandeering” any hotels refusing to participate in housing the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, a constitutional law expert tells FOX 11 that the city would be within its legal rights to take s such action.

“If the city decides it needs to take hotels to house the homeless, the city, I think, will be able to do that,” said Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law at UC Berkeley. “The Constitution says that the government can take private property for public use so long as it pays just compensation, the city, therefore, could commandeer a hotel for the homeless, but I think that would be confiscating for a period of time, and the government would have to compensate the hotel owners.”

But would the city actually act on councilman Mike  Bonin’s suggestion to commandeer the hotels? FOX 11 reporter Bill Melugin asked Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that question during his Thursday evening press conference.

“I’ll repeat what I said last night, which is that although I have the right to do certain things and I’m not scared to use those powers, everything costs money, and we shouldn’t necessarily commandeer the most expensive hotel rooms where we can house more people for the same dollars for less,” he said.

The mayor said through Project Roomkey, the city has talked to more than 800 hotels, and rather than force them to participate, he hopes they would do so willingly, in return for past favors.

“Yes, we’ve helped some hotels get on their feet, we’ve helped them go through things like redevelopment, it would be good for them to give back,” Garcetti said. “So I would say, hotels, step up, we’ve gotten a lot of rooms, but people should do the right thing, and I’m always going to make sure we get the most bang for our buck that we can.”

As for the hotels who continue to resist, city council president Nury Martinez had this to say.

“Let’s also take a look at the ones that are not cooperating and hopefully, if we have to publicly shame them, maybe that’s something we can look at, mayor?”.

“Yep, happy to do it,” Garcetti replied.

So far, the city is falling well short of its goal to house 15,000 homeless Angelenos in hotels.

At last check, the number stood at only 1,600.

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