SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A sympathetic federal judge Tuesday refused to stop the eviction of dozens of homeless people from a 10-month-old camp on the Berkeley-Oakland border.
“Judges are sworn to uphold the law,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup said in court Tuesday. “I wish the law was more generous to the poor than it is, but there are laws that support property owners, and the judge has to honor his oath and cannot just follow his heart. He's got to follow the law.”
Alsup last week granted a temporary restraining order to stop the removal of a homeless camp near the Here-There sign on a public green space outside the Ashby BART station in South Berkeley.
Residents of the camp and their advocates say the encampment is a model community that prohibits drugs and alcohol, adopts rules by consensus and is supported by the local community.
But Bay Area Rapid Transit, which owns the property, and the city of Berkeley, which maintains it, say the camp has generated numerous complaints about public health concerns, piles of garbage, drug use and public sex. The city and BART say the campers are also violating numerous laws, including trespass laws, which BART cited as the basis for its 72-hour eviction notice on Oct. 21.
Lead plaintiff Clark Sullivan et al. say the impending eviction would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and be an unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
After a Tuesday morning hearing, Alsup denied the motion for a preliminary injunction.
He found that cases cited by the plaintiffs, such as the 2006 Ninth Circuit ruling in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, involved much broader policies that would have deprived homeless residents of any place to live or perform necessary daily activities.
“Plaintiffs do not seek the narrow dispensation from a total ban on any sleeping, lying, or sitting, as in Jones,” Alsup wrote. “The relief plaintiffs now seek — court approval to settle indefinitely on the land of a municipal transportation district — would be unprecedented.”
Alsup also found the fact that BART gave the homeless campers 72 hours notice and agreed to hold some of their seized possessions for up to 90 days undercut arguments that the eviction would be an unlawful taking of property.
Plaintiff James Blair, who has lived at the camp for 10 months, said being forced to move will cause serious hardships for him and other residents.
"They allow you to cart away what you can carry on your back and throw the rest in the Dumpster," he said after the Tuesday hearing. “It makes you lose the few possessions you own. I lost my passport in the last eviction.”
For this eviction, Berkeley has agreed to hold all seized property for safekeeping for at least 14 days. It promised to hold items necessary for shelter for 45 days and items that appear to be worth at least $100 for 90 days, according to an eviction notice cited in Alsup’s ruling.
Blair said he rented in Berkeley for 22 years until about a year ago, when rent became too high to afford on his Social Security disability income.