Public Comment

A Judge Allows an Eviction, but Sends a Signal

Carol Denney
Friday November 03, 2017 - 06:55:00 PM

The headlines said "Homeless Camp Evicted", or "BART Can Kick Out Homeless." But the federal judge handling the case also sent a signal to the City of Berkeley and anyone watching that business as usual might be over. 

HEREIN a practical plan for shelter for its homeless during the coming winter. Do not simply recite
the programs the City purports to offer, for they are admittedly insufficient. Submit a plan that will
shelter substantially all of Berkeley’s homeless. The Court is not ordering the plan to be adopted but
wants to be informed, and the parties and counsel to be informed, concerning the scope of possible

"By the same date, Attorney Siegel SHALL PLEASE SUBMIT his proposed plan. Be specific.
Name soccer fields and open spaces he would convert to tent cities. Failure to be specific may be a
sign that there is no practical solution." - Dated: November 1, 2017. 

We all remember what was happening last year around this time; the country was reeling from the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Berkeley, in contrast, had elected a purportedly more liberal majority, defeating a raft of candidates more likely to vote with Mayor Tom Bates and the developers who've been using housing issues to widen the income disparity that puts Berkeley in the very top echelon of income gaps nationwide. 

The understanding for those of us who worked to elect the new council was that the raids on tent groups would stop, the rhetoric about "outsiders" being responsible for homelessness would end. Some of that rhetoric is evident; the "Pathways" project report, for instance uses the very latest in "housing first" argot to soothe liberal observers who rarely note that it only offers temporary shelter for approximately 50 people, leaving hundreds on the street. 

But the "Poor Tour" chasing people with no place to go from place to place around town goes on. "First They Came for the Homeless" continues to serve as a model for self-organized, self-governing, resourceful communities of people in need of housing. But the obvious; square footage somewhere for the group to harbor safely, continues to elude the current Berkeley council majority. 

The judge in this case acknowledged that BART is not responsible for housing anybody. But U. S. District Judge William Alsup pointed directly at the city as an entity which is "equipped to remedy the problems associated with homelessness" and gave it a month to "submit a plan that will shelter substantially all of Berkeley's homeless." Berkeley may find a new way to sidestep taking practical steps to end this obvious, heart-breaking crisis. But while it may be true that some Berkeley voters have become numb to the issue, at least one federal judge is clearly fed up.