VALLEJO – Days before the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began a series of sweeps of homeless encampments in Vallejo, city officials repeatedly warned the agency that the city didn’t have any available shelter beds to accommodate those displaced, a requirement under federal law.
On Friday, Deputy City Attorney Hampton Jackson warned Caltrans that Vallejo wasn’t “aware of any available beds,” for the displaced homeless. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. Boise that cities cannot evict unsheltered people from public property without making alternative shelter space available.
“We suggest that you reconsider any displacement of individuals until such time as Caltrans has identified services and appropriate shelter locations to house those who are displaced,” Jackson wrote
The sweeps came up during Tuesday’s Vallejo City Council meeting when top city officials were adamant that the city didn’t participate in the six encampment cleanups along properties operated by Caltrans.
“We actually notified them that we were not going to participate in these activities,” City Manager Mike Malone said.
City Attorney Veronica Nebb referenced a series of emails between the city and Caltrans officials ahead of the sweeps that began on Monday.
“We did suggest to Caltrans that they not displace human beings,” Nebb told the city council. “We put that in writing to them.”
Nebb went on to say that the city had not been displacing people from public spaces, however, in February, the city attempted to do so after it posted 72-hour eviction notices at several sites in Vallejo including outside the John F. Kennedy Public Library. The city didn’t follow through with those evictions but did remove unsheltered people’s belongings.
Anthony Prince, lead organizer and general legal counsel for the California Homeless Union told the Vallejo Sun on Monday that he believed the sweeps by Caltrans violated the Martin v. Boise decision.
“They should not clear these areas until such time as they've provided alternative indoor housing,” Prince said. He said that Caltrans has become part of a “civil conspiracy” among local and state agencies to push homeless people out of where they’ve settled rather than provide services as cities compete against one another to attract businesses and investment.
The email exchange between city officials and Cheryl Chambers, deputy district director for external affairs for Caltrans, appeared to be icy as both sides attempted to inform each other about their duties when it came to people experiencing homelessness.
A week before the sweeps began, Natalie Peterson, the city’s homelessness manager, wrote that the city didn’t “have the capacity or resources to assist with the outreach for these locations, especially given the short notice.”
“Caltrans team, I think we should talk to discuss how these should be handled in the future, as it appears that currently the County and City do not have the capacity to do outreach on behalf of Caltrans,” she wrote.
That prompted a response from Chambers, who shared a quote that providing shelter and housing assistance to homeless individuals “including those residing on a state right of way within a city’s boundaries is the responsibility of local government.”
“I would look forward to a discussion with the City of Vallejo and Solano County as to housing options for the people experiencing homelessness,” Chambers wrote. “Two disturbing trends: cities are closing RV lots with no alternatives for RV parking, and housed people are getting evicted in increasing numbers."
Assistant City Manager Gillian Hayes got involved in the back-and-forth, asking Chambers to provide a citation to the quote she provided.
“I’m sure this is an issue statewide as housing for all homeless does NOT exist at this time in California,” Hayes added.
Chambers responded that the city “will find authority for the allocation of powers and responsibilities between the State and local governments in Article XI [of the state constitution].”
“Cities and counties that seek funding to address solutions for ALL people experiencing homelessness in their communities, are better able to plan better and achieve superior results,” Chambers wrote. “I know the Navigation Center has been delayed and would be great to meet to get an update on temporary and permanent housing options.”
Vallejo has failed to make shelter space available as its attempt to build a new navigation center has been beset by delays and is badly over budget. Last year, the city revealed the project had a $2.3 million funding gap and that the proposed location was unfit for human habitation. The city has not yet picked a new location.
The sweeps in Vallejo come at the same time as Caltrans crews clearing a longtime encampment on Wood Street in Oakland of about 200 residents.
Caltrans’ eviction notice left at the encampments this week said any property left at the sites would be considered abandoned, but “any property not disposed of” would be stored for 90 days.
The agency was the subject of a class action lawsuit brought by the East Bay Community Law Center regarding encampment sweeps in Oakland and Berkeley where Caltrans workers routinely trashed people’s belongings. Caltrans settled the lawsuit last year and committed to reimbursing homeless people for their destroyed possessions and to storing property during future sweeps across the state.
Scott Morris contributed to this article.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Council
- Veronica Nebb
- Mike Malone
- California Homeless Union
- Hampton Jackson
- Anthony Prince
- Cheryl Chambers
- Natalie Peterson
- navigation center
John Glidden worked as a journalist covering the city of Vallejo for more than 10 years. He left journalism in 2023 and currently works in the office of Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown.
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