Sweeping Federal Temporary Restraining Order Stopping Harassment of Homeless in Chico May Give New Hope to Santa Cruz Homeless

Chico Shines a Light, But Activists Here Must Do the Heavy Lifting Down Chico way, a Senior Sacramento Judge of the Eastern Division of the Federal District Court has stopped encampment sweeps dead in their tracks city-wide with a TRO in the Commanche Creek Greenway case. This was justified not by the fading COVID-19 shelter-in-place concerns, but rather by lack of shelter or campground alternatives for those being rousted.

In a sweeping Temporary Restraining Order, Federal Judge Morrison C. England has blocked Chico cops and bureaucrats from
***Moving on the Comanche Creek Green Way encampment
***Blocking all such sweeps City-wide in Chico
***Freezing anti-homeless Municipal Codes in the City
***Banning enforcement of the state’s anti-panhandling law (647c)
***Protecting all property of the City’s homeless, even that valued at $100 or less.
The text of the Court order can be read at https://npr.brightspotcdn.com/e7/18/db7ea75b4afe9870d05ba2cf8d79/lsnc-tro.pdf

Some of the story is told at https://www.chicoer.com/2021/04/11/lawsuit-against-city-of-chico-launched-on-behalf-of-rights-of-unhoused-individuals/

…be roused from its deep sleep whether we’re talking S.C. Union of the Homeless or the local ACLU?

While the SC Homeless Union has been gathering Declarations of damage in the local encampment destructions ever since Ross Camp was rousted back in April 2019, it has failed to move on a City-wide Injunction protecting the homeless.

In its most recent successful Injunction protecting the San Lorenzo homeless, Union attorney Anthony Prince has simply signed on to City Attorney Condotii’s “move ‘em to the Benchlands” order with few proposed modifications. He recently grew enraged with my questions at a Union meeting and refused to answer them.

The local ACLU has been even worse, pleading impotence unless it can “get permission” from the regional ACLU up North. When asked why lawyers and activists on the local Board couldn’t take matters into their own hands, Former ACLU Board member Steve Pleich stormed out of a homeless activist meeting refusing to discuss the matter. Pleich reportedly seeks a position on the restrictive Association of Faith Communities Safe Parking program (but has also declined to respond to written criticisms and concerns about their program).

Hopefully, the Chico TRO will lead to a Preliminary Injunction that will embolden the terminally timid attorneys here to move, if only to collect some money, to protect the constantly crushed civil rights of those outside.

Meanwhile the City Manager, City Attorney, and City Mayor are playing peek-a-boo politics with the Martin v. Boise decision. Dustyheart Donna Meyers’ City Council tightens the noose around the homeless citywide with its ludicrous TOLO law up for further fascist formfitting on Tuesday April 13.

That law bans homeless survival camping in parks, greenbelts, neighborhoods, downtown, at the beach…hell, everywhere but on narrow sidewalks where they’ll be subject to “blocking the sidewalk” citations. Bellowing bigots from Seabright and the West Side are demanding their sidewalks be swept clean of “the homeless menace.”

Meyers’ Council majority has signed on to Chief Mills’ clever but callous 7-point program. One device seems to be not providing specific safe zones in the TOLO law while retaining and augmenting the massive enforcement apparatus of the old unconstitutional Camping Ban.

This intentional cloudiness about safe zones was perhaps meant to reassure “drive the homeless out of sight, out of town” NIMBY activists in the neighborhoods but ironically has had the opposite effect. Or was the ambiguity intended as a device to stoke their fears in order to mobilize them into potential future vigilante action imperiling the homeless still further, but solidifying the racist anti-homeless electoral strategy with an eye on the 2022 elections?

The Mills-Meyers-Bernal TOLO law would have been laughed out of Judge Keulen’s court. Keulen, the federal judge who previously granted the San Lorenzo Park residents a 3-month reprieve, demanded specific shelter alternatives for those being rousted (though unfortunately didn’t clarify for how long).

The TOLO law can only survive in the reactionary echo chamber of City Council if activists do nothing other than complain among themselves and shoehorn themselves into Mayor Meyers 1 minute gag rule. Or if we wait for attorneys to come out of hiding. Meanwhile, do we hope for Mills’ cops, Deborah Elston’s RV rousters, and Elliot’s Parks and Rec wrecking crew to see the light or act fairly?

Meanwhile, City Manager Bernal has apparently authorized activation of City Attorney Tony Condotti’s “Move ‘Em Along” order bullying Benchland residents to move by 9 AM today (4-12) . Bernal’s bumbusters reportedly posted illegal notices for Benchlander residents to vacate the park entirely (violating Judge Keulen’s court order).

When SC Homeless Union attorney Prince caught wind of this, he reportedly passed on the word to Food Not Bombs activist Keith McHenry,who then put up some “Don’t Be Fooled” signs clarifying that Benchlands residents only had to move to the Upper Park area. Then, McHenry reports, the City altered its signs to more accurately reflect the Judge’s order.

However the City’s Clear the Park Plan is in motion. The entire “musical chairs” move-‘em-to -the-122-Benchlands sites may be very temporary if Keulen dissolves the protective Injunction at the April 27th hearing. This will force all Park residents…to the imaginary accommodations that overpaid well-spoken city liars like Lee Butler and Susie O’Hara have told tales of.

Will the Chico TRO however, if upheld as a Preliminary Injunction, stiffen the spines of ACLUsters and Union activists alike to demand a broader Injunction here that protects all the homeless and relies on the obvious lack of shelter space?

COVID-expanded shelter space is reportedly contracting significantly with the cutting off of out-of-county funding with River St., Laurel St., the Armory, and other such places being shut down.

In Chico, Sausalito, and here, it took direct ground resistance from the Conscience Community to delay police persecution long enough to get Court action. That is likely to be the continuing case here. Unfortunately groups like Stop the Sweeps, NOMAD, and others are less visible if not missing entirely. But resistance has often come unexpectedly in waves.
The roar of the righteous may yet be heard again.
Add Your Comments§Text of the Chico Temporaty Restraining Order by Judge Morrison C. England (posted by Norse) (rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com)
Monday Apr 12th, 2021 8:04 AM


Download PDF (141.2KB) The TRO text is lifted from the Chico Enterprise-Record in the story that follows in the net comment. The link, as mentioned above, is https://npr.brightspotcdn.com/e7/18/db7ea75b4afe9870d05ba2cf8d79/lsnc-tro.pdf . Add a Comment§Newspaper Story by Natalie Hanson (posted by Norse) (rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com)
Monday Apr 12th, 2021 8:11 AM https://www.chicoer.com/2021/04/11/lawsuit-against-city-of-chico-launched-on-behalf-of-rights-of-unhoused-individuals/

UPDATED: Unhoused individuals launch lawsuit against city of Chico; restraining order granted
District judge sets April 23 for hearing

By Natalie Hanson | nhanson [at] chicoer.com | Chico Enterprise-Record PUBLISHED: April 11, 2021 at 6:17 p.m. | UPDATED: April 11, 2021 at 8:40 p.m.

CHICO — A legal aid provider filed suit against the city’s enforcement operations sweeping unhoused individuals and filed an additional temporary restraining order, which was granted by U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. on Sunday.

That decision, which came three days after the city gave 72-hour notices to people who have been camping in violation of city ordinances at Comanche Creek Greenway, delays any evictions by the city until at least April 23.

Legal Services of Northern California, a non-profit civil legal aid provider for 23 northern California counties, officially filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on Thursday. Attorneys Cory Turner and Stephanie Goldberg are lead litigators on behalf of eight plaintiffs against the city and the Chico Police Department.

Chico City Manager Mark Orme said Sunday “City staff does not comment on current or anticipated litigation.” The city attorney was not available to comment before this paper’s deadline.

The plaintiffs include Camp Fire survivors and other indigent Chico residents “who cannot afford housing and who live outdoors because they have no other shelter options,” and are subject to the city’s methodical encampment eviction and property confiscation efforts beginning in January, according to a news release Sunday.

The suit seeks an injunction barring the city from enforcing 72-hour eviction notices issued to unhoused people sleeping and resting on public land, such as one issued at Chico’s Comanche Creek Green Way park April 8. It also seeks ending continued enforcement of city ordinances “that criminally penalize the plaintiffs’ homeless status in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as defined under two recent federal court decisions that struck down similar ordinances – Martin v. City of Boise, Idaho, 2019 and Blake v. City of Grants Pass, 2020.”

Turner said Chico lacks sufficient emergency shelter for hundreds of unhoused residents and that existing shelter options “are inaccessible to many unhoused people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, even when beds are available.”

“Nevertheless, the city and its police department have undertaken aggressive sweeps of public areas where unhoused people rest and sleep and have refused, repeatedly, to tell unhoused people where they may lawfully reside until they are able to secure shelter. As a result, unhoused Chico residents, many of whom have physical and mental disabilities, are thrown into a cycle of constant movement from one location to another to avoid arrest, citation and destruction of what little property they have.”

The plaintiff’s suit seeks to prohibit the city’s enforcement operations sweeping camps “until such time that it develops more appropriate community solutions to meet the needs and honors the civil rights of all Chico residents, including those who cannot afford shelter.”

Turner said Sunday the city has not yet responded to several invitations Thursday to discuss the pending 72-hour notice enforcement at Comanche Creek Greenway, which he said triggered the need to file the lawsuit and the restraining order. This notice expired noon Sunday.

“We hope this can help lead to solutions that meet the needs our clients — and the community as a whole,” Turner said.
His clients are hoping to secure housing and need to know where outdoors they can stay until they secure it, he said. But Chico police have advised they do not tell people where they can stay, beyond not camping in parks and greenways.

“They’re not telling people where they can be safely and legally,” Turner said. “They (clients) just want to be in a location where they can avoid arrest and citation and potential destruction of their property.

“You can’t expect people to be able to help themselves when they can’t be sure of those basic needs to begin with.”

By 5 p.m. Sunday, the request for the restricting order was granted by the judge as the District Court found Sunday a temporary restraining order is warranted.

According to the brief released Sunday, “Plaintiffs have carried their burden of demonstrating that they are likely to succeed on the merits, that they would be irreparably harmed in the absence of a temporary restraining order, that the equities weigh in favor of granting the requested temporary restraining order, and that the temporary restraining order would not be against the public interest. The Court also finds that Plaintiffs have no other adequate legal remedy to preserve the status quo.”

This means until a hearing April 23, the city cannot legally enforce sweeping operations to enforce city ordinances. The city cannot enforce city code Waterways Ordinance – Camping, Staying, Storage of Personal Property, Entering and Remaining on public property, or any “destroying property of unhoused persons seized by Defendants even if Defendants value the property at $100 or less and/or determine it is not of reasonable value.”

The suit was filed two days after the Chico City Council voted 5-2 in favor of rescinding the shelter crisis declaration in the city, on the grounds that there are shelter beds available.

In an email obtained by Chico Enterprise-Record, Housing and Homeless Administrator Don Taylor advised city staff Wednesday an official rescinding of the crisis “immediately makes that jurisdiction ineligible for the use of Homeless Emergency Aid Program, Coalition for Adequate School Housing 2018 and 2019 funds.

“We are reaching out to the state to inform them and ask for specific direction. There are several contracted agencies we will need to inform that they can no longer use funds as of today.”

Taylor said the decision would impact programs like True North Housing Alliance, Chico Housing Action Team and Caminar and could impact Ampla Health and Catalyst Domestic Violence Services programs. He said he will be communicating with contracted agencies “so they don’t incur costs that won’t be covered.”

“At a minimum, they will be aware the costs they are incurring will not be reimbursed by these funding sources so it will be up to them whether they continue to provide services.”

Councilor Alex Brown, who proposed discussing sheltering opportunities on two city properties which was rejected 5-2, reacted to other councilors’ intention to rescind the shelter crisis. Brown said the proposal was used “as an opportunity to undo great work that has been done up until this point, under the mistaken belief you can whittle down the experience of people on our streets being, they simply do not want shelter.”
“The irony is not lost on me that the vote to rescind the shelter crisis has led to this consequence to the very people (shelter providers) who are facing extreme cutbacks to their ability to do that,” she said Wednesday, calling it “the results again of hasty reactive decision making.”

“This massive decision was brought up on an item that was related to providing shelter which gave no opportunity for the public to weigh in on the proposal,” she added.

The city confirmed Thursday the shelter crisis is not yet rescinded and an official resolution would be needed to properly rescind the shelter crisis declaration in Chico.

“Whether or not they (the Chico City Council) choose to have an active shelter crisis declaration doesn’t change whether there is a shelter crisis in the city,” Turner said. “There are more people who are unsheltered than there are available shelter in the city. That is obvious.”

Natalie Hanson | Reporter
Natalie Hanson covers the city of Chico, seniors and general assignments for the Chico Enterprise-Record after previously editing and writing for A&E. She has written and edited for multiple publications including The Orion at Chico State and is studying journalism and international relations. She is passionate about student journalism, covering the community and quality coffee.
nhanson [at] chicoer.com