DA, Residents Sue California’s Capital City Over Homelessness, Public Safety Issues

The suit alleges Sacramento “allowed, enabled, and created a public safety issue” with policies leading to the increase of homeless encampments.
DA, Residents Sue California’s Capital City Over Homelessness, Public Safety Issues
Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho holds a poster collage titled "criminal behavior" as he announces that his office is suing the City of Sacramento, Calif., for creating a public nuisance by failing to take stronger action on homeless camps, on Sept. 19, 2023. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
Travis Gillmore
9/21/2023
Updated:
12/30/2023
0:00

With homeless encampments encroaching on sidewalks throughout the city, Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho announced a series of lawsuits filed against the City of Sacramento, California, for failing to uphold civil codes and enforce the law.

“We are simply holding the city accountable to the same law they enforce on us,” Mr. Ho said during a press conference on Sept. 19. “We are giving a voice to those that feel their cries for help have fallen on deaf ears.”

The litigation filed by the district attorney alleges that the city “allowed, enabled, and created a public safety issue,” by crafting policies that facilitated the increase of homeless encampments. Approximately 12 individuals and small businesses filed a related lawsuit.

Declaring his intent to take the case to trial, Mr. Ho said documents—including text messages and emails—will be demanded for evidence, and approximately 400 to 500 witnesses are expected to be deposed under oath in relation to the case.

“The community is at a breaking point,” he said during the press conference. “The unhoused are living in conditions typical of Third World countries, all the while the rest of the community is stuck between compassion and chaos.”

According to the city’s most recent point-in-time count, which it conducts bi-annually, there has been a 250 percent growth in homelessness over the past seven years and a 67 percent jump from 2019 to 2022.

“Seven years into this descent into decay,” Mr. Ho said. “Seven years into this collapse into chaos where we have an erosion of everyday life. ... where we forget what it feels like to be safe.”

Citing internal investigations that revealed no citations have been issued for disobeying ordinances related to homelessness this year, the district attorney questioned whether specific mandates or policies from city officials were preventing enforcement actions.

“When I saw this, my jaw literally dropped,” Mr. Ho said. “We can’t prosecute cases if cases aren’t presented to us.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho stands with supporters and victims of alleged crimes by homeless residents at a press conference announcing that his office is suing the City of Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 19, 2023. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho stands with supporters and victims of alleged crimes by homeless residents at a press conference announcing that his office is suing the City of Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 19, 2023. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

Highlighting the disparity of fining landlords and property owners for public safety nuisance violations, he stressed that laws must be applied equally in order to be effective.

“Inconsistent enforcement will erode public safety, enable lawlessness, and represents a missed opportunity for interaction and engagement to encourage treatment,” Mr. Ho said. “Why pass laws if you’re not going to enforce them?”

Following months of discussion with city administrators, the district attorney said he was left with no other option than to take the matter to court.

“We’re stuck in this never-ending Groundhog Day loop where nothing gets better, and nothing gets done,” Mr. Ho said. “Enough is enough.”

Among the demands included in the lawsuit, Sacramento is being asked to increase enforcement of existing ordinances, hire additional city attorneys to facilitate the process, create shelter locations and safe sites that are professionally managed, and establish a real-time database of available shelter beds.

A homeless encampment is seen across from the Diocese of Sacramento in Sacramento, Calif., on June 7, 2023. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
A homeless encampment is seen across from the Diocese of Sacramento in Sacramento, Calif., on June 7, 2023. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Mayor Darrell Steinberg responded forcefully after learning of the litigation, claiming in a statement released on Sept. 19 that Sacramento has done more to address homelessness than any other local government.

“Frankly, we have no time for the district attorney’s performative distraction from the hard work we all need to do together to solve this complex social problem plaguing urban centers throughout the state,” he said. “The city needs real partnership from the region’s leaders, not politics and lawsuits. Let’s just do the work.”

In response to allegations that the city isn’t enforcing its laws and upholding its mandate, the mayor argued that this simply isn’t the case but said he understands the exasperation that residents are venting.

“We are working day and night to enforce our laws and provide relief to our community while avoiding the futile trap of just moving people endlessly from one block to the next,” Mr. Steinberg said. “The frustration that members of our community feel is absolutely justified. But the district attorney’s lawsuit will not clear a single sidewalk nor get a single person off the streets.”

Responding to the mayor’s comments, the district attorney said the lawsuit is a necessary legal remedy to a years-long problem that has jeopardized the community.

“My office’s decision to sue the City of Sacramento for violating California Civil Code 3480 was based on public safety, not politics or performance,” Mr. Ho told The Epoch Times by email on Sept. 20.

Sacramento city officials say that they’re now preparing for and “[looking] forward to responding” in court, according to a statement issued on Sept. 19 by Sacramento City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood.

“The city has attempted to work with the district attorney multiple times in recent months, stating that collaboration is the best path forward,” Ms. Alcala Wood wrote. “However, it sadly appears the [district attorney] would rather point fingers and cast blame than partner to achieve meaningful solutions for our community.”

No mention was made by the city’s mayor or attorney regarding the related lawsuit filed by citizens.

“The homeless situation created and exacerbated by city leadership is getting worse by the day, and no solutions are being presented to us,” Ognian Gavrilov, the attorney representing the group filing the related lawsuit, said during the press conference with the county’s district attorney. “We’re not here to ask for money. We’re here to ask the city to do the right thing.”

One Sacramento resident—with family roots in the city going back 80 years—spoke of the changing conditions and degradation of public spaces that are impacting neighborhoods—including instances of open drug dealing and use, human trafficking, prostitution, and violence occurring on bike trails accessed by children and families.

“We’re not seeing a balance to preserve public health and safety,” Steven Walton, a long-time advocate for Del Paseo Heights in Old North Sacramento, said during the press conference. “It makes a community like mine feel helpless and hopeless at times.”

A tent sits on a sidewalk in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A tent sits on a sidewalk in Sacramento, Calif., on April 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Another resident impacted by homeless encampments told of her family’s lawn strewn with needles and feces and her driveway blocked by violent individuals for months. After city officials cleared the area, the campers moved back onto the sidewalks once the crews departed.

“We are beyond frustrated, and we no longer feel safe in our home or valued by our city,” Emily, a lifelong Sacramento resident who provided only her first name, said at the press conference. “We deserve better than this. The people in the camps deserve better than this.”

The day after the lawsuit was filed, city officials cleared an encampment that had lingered for more than 18 months in Upper Land Park near Broadway—although the operation reportedly wasn’t related to the litigation and was planned beforehand following a fire that had erupted at the location on Aug. 24, according to a spokesperson for the city.

In a statement released following the removal of the camp, the district attorney encouraged such activity.

“We are supportive of enforcement and compliance actions that are responsive to the public safety concerns of the community,” Mr. Ho said.

Further complicating homeless issues in Sacramento are the 2018 Martin v. Boise ruling from the 9th District Court, which restricts removal unless shelter beds are available, and a temporary injunction from a federal judge in July that prevented clearing homeless camps because of persistent high temperatures.

Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.
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