Oakland, Berkeley homeless camp sweeps by Caltrans violated constitution, suit allegesWednesday, December 14, 2016
East Bay Times – By Tom Lochner
OAKLAND — Civil rights groups have filed a class action lawsuit against Caltrans on behalf of five homeless people from Oakland and Berkeley.
A complaint filed Dec. 13 in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that the agency violated the constitutional rights of Kimberlee Sanchez, James Leone, Scott Russell and Christopher Craner, all of Oakland, and Patricia Moore of Berkeley, by confiscating and destroying their property during sweeps of encampments along freeways this year and last year.
The sweeps occurred on or along Caltrans property in March 2015, April 2016 and May 2016 near the Interstate 880-980 freeway interchange in West Oakland; and in early 2016 at the Interstate 80 overpass at Gilman Street in Berkeley; the California Highway Patrol assisted in at least some of the sweeps, according to the suit.
“Defendants have regularly engaged in ‘sweeps’ of areas where homeless individuals live, intentionally and indiscriminately taking and destroying these individuals’ personal property,” the complaint reads in part. The suit, filed by the Palo Alto-based law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, names Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty and unnamed others as co-defendants.
“Defendants’ illegal actions deprive homeless individuals of personal belongings that are critical to their survival, such as clothing, medication, cooking utensils, tents, and blankets, as well as of irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs, personal records, and other critical documents,” the complaint continues. “Defendants’ sweeps are conducted with no notice, inadequate notice, or misleading notice and in a manner that prevents homeless persons from saving their possessions from destruction.”
The state agency issued a statement Dec. 14 in response, saying, “While Caltrans is empathetic to the plight of the homeless who seek shelter under our bridges and along our right-of-way, being an active lawsuit, the department will not be able to comment on this litigation.”
Co-plaintiffs include the nonprofit organizations Homeless Action Center and Western Regional Advocacy Project, and Susan Halpern and Natalie Leimkuhler, two activists who live in Alameda County and work with homeless people, according to the complaint.
Additional counsel are the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, both based in San Francisco, and the Berkeley-based East Bay Community Law Center.
Leimkuhler and Halpern are co-founders of the Youth Engagement Advocacy and Housing (YEAH!) shelter in Berkeley, and she and Halpern serve on its board, according to the organization’s website.