Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, Calif. is seen Monday, April 11, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Judge indicates he’s unlikely to continue blocking Berkeley homeless camp eviction

A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday indicated he is likely to deny a request by five Berkeley homeless camp members for a preliminary injunction blocking their eviction by BART.

During an hour of arguments, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the homeless plaintiffs have an uphill battle to win their legal arguments against being removed from an area known as the “Here/There” camp on the west side of BART tracks near the Oakland border.

But Alsup took the case under submission and will issue a written ruling later.

The encampment, which has been evicted from several other Berkeley locations since 2015, settled at the site in mid-January. Its residents call their group “First They Came for the Homeless.”

BART, which owns the property, posted a 72-hour eviction notice on Oct. 21. After the residents filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, Alsup halted the eviction on Oct. 24 with a temporary restraining order that will remain in effect until the outcome of today’s hearing.

The residents claim their eviction would violate their constitutional rights of due process and freedom from unreasonable seizure of property and from cruel and unusual punishment. They also say it would violate the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

They say they have no other place to live and that they run the camp under rules banning hard drugs and alcohol and requiring violence-free conflict resolution.

BART officials contend that the residents are trespassing and say they are concerned about sanitation, health and safety and have received complaints from neighbors and parents at a nearby school.

“BART is not equipped to manage or maintain a homeless encampment on its property … Moreover, the property on which plaintiffs seek to remain is not suitable for long-term habitation,” the agency’s lawyers wrote in a filing.

If Alsup denies a preliminary injunction, the residents could appeal or await a full trial early next year on whether they are entitled to a permanent injunction.

Outside of court, the plaintiffs’ lawyer Dan Siegel said, “I’m pleased we have a judge who is willing to look at the issues in a serious way. We’re asking the judge to do something that is different but not radically different” from what has been done before.

The lawsuit was originally a brief handwritten complaint filed on Oct. 23 by three of the residents acting as their own lawyers.

Alsup’s temporary restraining order allowed time for Siegel’s Oakland law firm to file a more detailed amended lawsuit. The revised lawsuit also adds two more plaintiffs and adds the city of Berkeley as a defendant.

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