Los Angeles Calls Bluff on $2 Billion DOJ Wheelchair-Access Suit

(Bloomberg) -- Los Angeles is calling the U.S.’s bluff in a $2 billion lawsuit over allegations it failed to use federal funding to provide accessible housing for people with disabilities.

The city is asking a judge on Wednesday to throw out the government’s complaint, primarily because the Housing and Urban Development Department simply doesn’t base its entitlement grants on compliance with federal accessibility laws.

HUD has continued to release funds and to pursue an administrative solution with the city while aware of possible non-compliance issues, according to Los Angeles, just as it has done in the past with any other municipality facing similar questions.

The Justice Department’s decision to join the whistle-blower lawsuit last year, more than six years after the initial complaint was filed by a woman in a wheelchair, is one of many legal disputes that have erupted between the Trump administration and California, most of them over the state’s more progressive policies regarding immigration and environmental regulation.

Including a complaint filed Tuesday against the Environmental Protection Agency over its intention to lower vehicle-emission standards, California has filed 32 lawsuits since Trump took office. For its part, the government has threatened to withhold funding from Los Angeles for its so-called sanctuary city policies and sued the state for the same reason -- failing to enforce a federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Separately, the administration has sought to cut the very HUD funds it’s ostensibly defending in the Los Angeles case. The Justice Department is adamant that the suit isn’t politically motivated.

“This investigation was initiated under the prior administration after the filing of a private whistle-blower suit, and has been conducted by career employees in the Department of Justice,” spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said. “It is a serious matter and we will pursue it as we would any similar case based on facts and the law.”

Los Angeles says the government’s lawsuit is about money, not about helping the disabled, and it will only worsen the severe housing crisis in the second-largest U.S. city.

“Clearly, the complaint does not seek to ameliorate the suffering of even one ‘Angeleno with a disability’; it seeks to take funding out of Los Angeles, a result that would inflict and exacerbate suffering on those most in need of protection on an enormous scale,” according to the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

HUD meanwhile is cutting the bulk of the grants that the Justice Department alleges Los Angeles failed to use to create housing that met minimal accessibility requirements. The department’s proposed 2019 budget adds up to $42.2 billion in outlays, compared with $55.5 billion in 2017.

Representatives of the city and HUD declined to comment on the suit.

The case is U.S. v. City of Los Angeles, 11-cv-00974, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.