Sherman R. Frederick
A federal judge last week blocked the City of Sausalito from executing plans to forcibly clear an impromptu homeless encampment in a city park and moving it to another city park.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen issued on March 1 a preliminary injunction prohibiting the clearing of Dunphy Park encampment.
In balancing the risks and rewards of the idea, the court said the city’s forced move proposal “appears to increase rather than decrease health risks to both campers as well as the surrounding community.”
The Sausalito City Council, in the stated effort to organize and help the homeless, had previously decided to designate one place in Sausalito for the homeless to camp overnight and that was going to be Marinship Park, a place the city said had better public health facilities from which the homeless could be helped. But, the caveat was that the homeless tents would have to be taken down each day and stored in a city facility.
The Sausalito/Marin chapter of the California Homeless Union filed suit to stop the city’s move. It argued that current CDC guidance on homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic says that “if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampment to remain where they are” because “clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
The Homeless Union also contended that a forced move from Dunphy Park to Marinship Park would endanger the homeless because Marinship Park is close to a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers boat crushing operation, which could expose the homeless to paint dust and fiberglass.
While the court said that the evidence for that contention is “exceedingly thin”, the city also provided no evidence for the environmental safety for a Marinship Park encampment. The city also, the court found, did no due diligence on the environmental safety of Marinship Park
Judge Chen said that “While the denial of a preliminary injunction would pose a risk to the health and safety of the Dunphy Park campers, there is practically no evidence of harm if an injunction were to be granted.”
The city argued that the current showering facilities located at Marinship Park could not be moved to Dunphy Park because there is no water hook-up, or room, at Dunphy. The court visited Dunphy Park and determined that there was room and that there were hook-ups. The court stopped short of saying that the city made false statements.
“Based on the court’s own site visit, there is a hose bib at the corner of the entrance road and Bridgeway; furthermore, there appear to be a number of spots where the mobile showering truck/trailer could park for several hours in relatively close proximity to the Dunphy Park encampment. The court does not find convincing (the city’s) contention that the mobile showers cannot be placed and operated in proximity to Dunphy Park.”
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