Homeless Battles – City of Sacramento Asks Superior Court to Toss County DA’s Homeless Lawsuit, Calling It ‘Deeply Flawed, Unsound’

Possessions of a homeless person on Capital Mall Drive in Sacramento on Saturday, September 11, 2021.(Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – The city of Sacramento and the county of Sacramento—through county District Attorney Thien Ho—continued to duke it out this week over the homeless issue, with the city arguing Ho’s lawsuit criticizing the “city’s handling of the homeless crisis” exceeds his authority and is “deeply flawed.”

There are now an estimated 10,000 homeless in the city/county area, according to officials.

Sacramento Superior Court has been asked to toss the suit because, as the city complained, “The filing in this case is deeply flawed, and from a legal perspective, is unsound from every angle,” City Attorney Susan Alcala Wood said in a statement Tuesday. 

The Sacramento Homeless Union—which has its own legal battles with the city—didn’t respond to The Vanguard’s invitation to comment. 

A hearing on the motion is expected Jan. 5.

In short, said the city motion, “The DA’s claims are predicated on the City’s alleged failure to enforce law and local ordinances and “[t]his failure to consistently enforce the law has and continues to convert City parks, sidewalks and streets into rotting cesspools overrun by crime and disease…The people have and continue to suffer injury and the threat of injury as a result of the homeless encampments outside their respective properties.” 

Ho, the city wrote, “asserts these are failures by some unidentified City officials, employees, and agents who “refuse to address the dangers” of homeless encampments based upon unidentified ‘express or implied directives/policies’ of unidentified city official or leaders.

“Yet such claims are barred by immunities (that) exist for the very purpose of preventing claims against the City (like) the claims the DA pursues. Lawsuits are not appropriate vehicles to compel cities to govern, enact law, enforce laws, or protect against the criminal or wrongful acts of others.”

The city didn’t mince words in its pleading to the court, noting, “Some of the grounds upon which this case is brought are so misguided it is surprising a taxpayer lawsuit has not been brought,” adding the DA suit is “so vague and ambiguous that it not only fails to state a sufficient cause of action, but it begs this Court to breach the separation-of-powers divide.”

The city asked the court to “sustain the City’s demurrer in its entirety and if leave to amend is granted, the DA should not take it. The People of the State of California deserve better. The challenges of homelessness are best met through cooperation across all levels of government than through accusations and confrontation. As Mayor Steinberg has aptly stated, ‘Let’s get to work.’”

The city’s Wood said the Ho lawsuit “fails the most primary tests in terms of its legality and viability. We believe the court will see this and correctly bring an end to a case that can’t hope to achieve anything beyond staggering expense to taxpayers and a drain on both City and court resources.”

“The move follows the September filings of lawsuits by Ho and an attorney for residents and business owners claiming that city officials have not done enough to halt the spread of homeless camps throughout Sacramento,” wrote the Sacramento Bee.

The city motion insisted, “The homelessness crisis and its effects are not fit for judicial resolution through this lawsuit. This is practically and politically true. It is also legally true that this lawsuit is inappropriate. The complaint is a constitutional overreach.”

The city filing added, “Besides the self-evident oxymoronic nature of the DA asserting private claims on behalf of the People, he has exceeded the powers granted to him by the state constitution and the California Legislature.” 

For his part, Ho—who has made no friends in the homeless community or the city with threats against the city and the unhoused—said in a statement his office “remains steadfast in our mission to protect public safety and we will continue to do our part to ensure that the unhoused are not left forgotten on the streets and that all residents of Sacramento live in a safe and just community.”

But the city asked the court, “The DA seeks injunctive/equitable relief, but what possible injunction or relief could be had? Force the city to ‘enforce the law?’

(But) “By what means — requiring the police to cite people? Requiring the City Attorney to prosecute City Code misdemeanors? Require the City Council to enact additional ordinances or policies? None of that is possible, as to do so would be an unconstitutional exercise of judicial power.”

“The People of the State of California deserve better. The challenges of homelessness are best met through cooperation across all levels of government than through accusations and confrontation,” said the city in its motion.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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