Judgment coming soon

Ruling on homeless encampment lawsuit versus city expected next week

In the distance, the white shade tent of the temporary homeless shelter at Chico Municipal Airport. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Those watching the lawsuit between eight unhoused individuals and the city of Chico over camping enforcement and lack of suitable shelter options will have to wait at least a little longer for a federal judge’s decision.

Earlier today (July 2), Judge Morrison England Jr. of the United States District Court Eastern District of California said he would rule on the case “sometime next week,” according to multiple Chico citizens present at the hearing in Sacramento. In the meantime, England extended a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring camping enforcement action by the city. The TRO was issued April 11 and was due to expire at the end of this week.

The judge also recommended that the parties in the case participate in mediation overseen by Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman to come to a final agreement.

Judge England, who previously criticized the city’s sit-lie and other ordinances aimed at homeless individuals, expressed concern that the city has kept these ordinances in place, according to Chico homeless advocate Jesica Giannola, who attended the proceeding.

Prior to the hearing, both sides filed supplemental briefs pleading their case, with Legal Services of Northern California—on behalf of the plaintiffs—asking for a preliminary injunction against the city to keep it from enforcing its anti-camping and related ordinances with no “practically available” shelter options in it’s document.

The city requested that injunction be denied, and that the TRO be lifted. The city’s brief, filed on June 21, touts the city’s temporary airport resting site as adequate housing for 571 individuals while a more permanent facility is prepared at the South Chico location currently occupied by Silver Dollar BMX. It also included statements from Chico safety personnel citing criminal activity and increased fire risk related to existing illegal encampments protected by the restraining order—most significantly at Comanche Creek Greenway.

The plaintiff’s brief, filed June 28, is largely focused on the airport shelter’s shortfalls, and echoes concerns expressed by critics about heat, lack of ADA accessibility and isolated location. Furthermore, it states that lined-out camping spaces on rocky ground do not constitute shelter as defined by the landmark Martin v. Boise case that serves as the basis for the local complaint.

“Rather, it ignores the Martin holding ‘as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,’” it reads.

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