Judge Won’t Stop Salinas, Calif. Homeless Sweeps

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge on Wednesday declined to bar the city of Salinas, California from conducting sweeps of homeless camps.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins said the seven homeless plaintiffs who filed suit against the city did not sufficiently demonstrate imminent harm or public interest necessary to warrant a temporary restraining order.
     “Plaintiffs’ attorney Anthony Prince’s declaration fails to demonstrate an injury in fact to any plaintiff sufficient for the issuance of a temporary restraining order,” Cousins wrote.
     Furthermore, the judge said some of the plaintiffs — including lead plaintiff Rita Acosta — are not even homeless. Acosta lives at the emergency shelter where she works, according to declarations provided by the city.
     “Acosta’s declaration does not state any involvement in the sweep or contact with any city official, or show that any of her personal possessions were seized or destroyed in the
     sweep,” Cousins said in the 12-page ruling.
     Another of the named plaintiffs runs a business that provides the homeless with food, according to declarations filed by the city.
     Plaintiffs’ attorney Anthony Prince said he was disappointed with the decision and felt the law was on their side.
     “The city has already conducted the sweep, so it’s a bit of a moot point right now,” Prince told Courthouse News via telephone. “It’s very unfortunate. It was a preventable occurrence in my opinion.”
     The suit was prompted after Salinas passed Ordinance 2564, since been amended as Ordinance 2567. The ordinance enables the city to conduct cleanup operations in its Chinatown area.
     Salinas claims the camps in Chinatown represent a significant public safety threat, as “the proliferation of encampments on public property have a significant adverse effect on public health, safety and welfare and impede or entirely obstruct access by emergency responders when responding to emergencies.”
     The plaintiffs say the ordinance is pretext the city has used to seize and destroy the personal property of homeless living in Chinatown. The broader purpose of the sweeps is to stigmatize the homeless and deter them from residing in Salinas, by harassing them into retreating to other neighboring cities, they say.
     “We continue to believe the conduct of the city is unconstitutional,” Prince said.
     The city has argued in the past that fires have occurred at the camp and responders have had difficulty appropriately addressing emergency issues as a result of the condition of the camp.
     Prince said his side will “regroup and asses our position” noting that conditions in the camp are different than when the suit was filed and that his side has been constrained by a lack of resources.
     Cousins stipulated the plaintiffs must file an amended complaint by April 21 in order for the case to proceed.
     Salinas, population 155,662, is the county seat of Monterey County and known for its large agricultural industry, and as the hometown of “The Grapes of Wrath” author John Steinbeck.
     Salinas City Attorney Chris Callihan did not return an email requesting comment by press time.

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