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Eviction at 2nd and Page, A letter by Osha Neumann

We are writing to express our outrage –again! – at the latest effort by the City of Berkeley to drive homeless people off its streets and sidewalks.

This instance is particularly egregious.

Yesterday, April 26, the City of Berkeley posted notices giving homeless people, who are living in vehicles parked on Second Street between Page and Camellia just 24 hours to leave or have their vehicles “abated.”

It is our understanding that notice has also been posted for people who are living in tents on the street.

The notice requires them to move from the East side of the street.

There is nothing on that side but the blank wall of an industrial building and fences.

There probably isn’t another block in Berkeley, where the presence of homeless people in cars and tents would have less impact.

People moved there for that reason.

Most of them have been driven out of other places where they attempted to live.

They have no place to go, and the City isn’t offering them an alternative.

What makes this eviction spectacularly unjust, callous, and by the way unconstitutional and illegal is (1) that people are being given only 24 hours to move with no place to go, and (2) that the justification given for 24 hours eviction, which will inevitably include the confiscation of property of people who are unable to move in that time, is a clearly inapplicable nuisance ordinance, misused to circumvent Constitutional and statutory notice requirements.

The ordinance in question is Berkeley Municipal Code Section 1.24.040. That section provides:

“Any nuisance which the City reasonably determines to be imminently dangerous to the life, limb, health, or safety of the occupants of the property or to the public may be summarily abated.”

Homeless people’s vehicles and tents have been on this block of Second Street for months and years.

They are not an “imminent danger to life, limb, health or safety of the occupants of the property”

What property? The vehicles and tents are certainly not a danger to their “occupants.” They are a life-support. They are home. Nor by any stretch of the imagination are the vehicles and tents a danger to the “public.” Members of the public rarely venture anywhere near the east side of Second Street on that block. None has suffered as much as a scratch as a result of the “nuisance” that must now be immediately abated.

The most cursory reading of the statute reveals it was never intended to be used as an instrument for homeless removal and an excuse for towing people’s RV’s.

Section B. of the ordinance reads:

“Actions taken to abate imminently dangerous property nuisances may include, but are not limited to repair, removal or demolition of the condition creating the danger and/or the restriction from use or occupancy of the property in which the dangerous condition exists or any other abatement action determined by the City to be necessary.”

None of that language makes any sense in relation to vehicles and tents. It’s self-evident that ordinance is intended to provide a means for the City to deal with generally dangerous conditions on people’s real estate – tree limbs about to fall passersby; buildings with rotten steps and lousy wiring that are fire traps – that sort of thing.

The misuse of this ordinance in this case is flagrant. The only explanation for its use in this case is that the City wants an excuse to expedite an eviction without allowing people time to find an alternative place to live. Other ordinances like, for example, BMC 14.36.050, requires the City to wait at least 72 hours, before moving the vehicle that has remained in one place that length of time or more.

The notice the City posted reveals its own absurdity. While giving people at most 24 hours to move or face eviction, it magnanimously announces that they have a Right to Appeal “within 15 calendar days of the date of this notice to abate.”

Much good 15 days is going to do them after the deed has been done.

We demand that the City rescinded the notices, and if he desires to move people off Second Street between Page and Camellia that it does so in a legal and humane way, providing outreach and real alternatives for the people who are being evicted.

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