Federal Judge Dissolves Temporary Restraining Order

Santa Cruz cleared to disperse Ross Camp

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With the temporary restraining order lifted and the impending closure of the Ross Camp, many houseless residents will move to the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands. Art by Lluvia Moreno and Manne Green.

City officials insisted the camp be cleaned and cleared. Houseless activists insisted the city provide shelter first. Unable to come to a compromise, they deferred to a federal judge who allowed the camp’s closure. 

Key People:

  • Edward Davila is the district judge for the Northern District of California who presided over the hearing for the TRO.
  • Anthony Prince is an attorney for the California Homeless Union and plaintiffs’ counsel. He has been advising the plaintiffs in Quintero v. Santa Cruz and hopes to add more plaintiffs to the lawsuit. 
  • Tony Condotti is the city attorney. He is co-counsel for the city in the Quintero v. Santa Cruz lawsuit along with Deputy City Attorney Reed  Gallogly.
  • Alicia Kuhl is the Ross Camp liaison and lead plaintiff in Quintero v. Santa Cruz, a civil rights lawsuit she filed against the city. She does not live in Ross Camp. She lives in her RV. 
  • Susie O’Hara is the assistant to city manager and principal management analyst. She plays a large role in Santa Cruz houseless  policies.
  • Drew Glover is a member of Santa Cruz City Council. He is one of the most outspoken voices of support for houseless individuals in Santa Cruz and was the only council member called to testify for the plaintiffs.
  • Crystal Olsson is one of the first female Ross Camp residents. She knew several women who were assaulted while they were living outside the  camp.

Content warning: This article references graphic violence and sexual assault.

After two fruitless settlement conferences over two court dates, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dissolved the temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the city of Santa Cruz from dismantling the houseless encampment behind the Ross department store on Monday. He ordered the city to give camp residents at least 72 hours notice to vacate the premises while the city cleans the site. 

City Council has not yet voted on whether to permanently close the camp, but Ross Camp liaison Alicia Kuhl suspects they will, given the city’s previous attempts to shut it down. 

The parties landed in court after a group of Ross Camp residents filed a motion for a TRO against the city on April 23. The TRO prevented the city from vacating the area for cleaning while the underlying civil suit, Quintero v. City of Santa Cruz, is in process. The suit claims that closing the Ross Camp is unconstitutional under Martin v. City of Boise.

Judge Davila reasoned that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed in Quintero v. Santa Cruz after hearing witness testimony, one of the requirements for maintaining a TRO.

“I don’t mean to be flip, but if I may quote the great philosopher Mick Jagger, ‘you can’t always get what you want,’” Judge Davila said during the proceedings.

Impacts

The city gave notice to the residents on April 30 to vacate the premises so the city can begin efforts to clean up the site.

The city offered multiple temporary shelter options to the former Ross Camp residents while city employees clean the site. A Salvation Army-run camp at the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands with a capacity of about 200 will be open until May 3 and a city-run camp at 1220 River St. with a capacity of 60 will be open until the end of June. Those who are unable to stay in either camp will be given motel vouchers for five to seven days.

The Salvation Army provided about 30 tents for the Benchlands location in San Lorenzo Park. The Ross Camp remains unevacuated at time of print. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

Many former residents will be without a place to stay in the coming months if the city shuts down Ross Camp. Susie O’Hara, assistant to the city manager, testified that most established shelters in Santa Cruz have limited vacancy. 

Residents of the camp, particularly female-identifying residents, feared for their safety without shelter. Witnesses for the plaintiffs said Ross Camp provided a necessary safe haven for these residents.

“I’ve observed people looking after each other,” said Ross Camp resident Maggie Rochelle, a former professor at the University of Iowa. “It really is a community of people that care for each other.”

Former residents forced out onto the streets will also lose a centralized location to access services. Ross Camp served as a hub for aid distribution from organizations like Food Not Bombs.

O’Hara said the city would provide more permanent shelter in the future, but Anthony Prince, attorney for the California Homeless Union and plaintiffs’ counsel, said the lack of specific commitments left him doubtful.

“There’s absolutely no commitment. […] It’s all what they might do,” Prince said. “We don’t think the judge should have permitted the break up of that camp until there was actual documented, verifiable evidence that this alternative shelter actually exists.”

Legal Questions

The standard for a restraining order consists of several elements. These include demonstrating “irreparable harm” if the request is not granted, balancing the relative burdens imposed on each side by extending or lifting the order and the likelihood of the underlying lawsuit being successful. 

Prince said the plaintiffs demonstrated both the irreparable harm and the reasonable likelihood the lawsuit would succeed based on the merits of the plaintiffs Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. He also said the court didn’t apply an important test traditionally applied by the 9th Circuit.

“In the 9th Circuit, you don’t have to show that you’re guaranteed to win at trial. You don’t even have to show that it’s highly likely that you’ll win at trial. How can you know that when not all the evidence has come out?” Prince said. “The test in the 9th Circuit is whether ‘serious questions are raised’ […] Did we raise serious questions that could indicate that we had a meritorious case? We think we did.”

City Attorney Tony Condotti said the threat the camp posed to public health and safety outweighed the threat the closure posed to its residents. City concerns about the camp include fire hazards, communicable disease risks and drug usage. 

“I was confident that [the plaintiffs] weren’t going to be able to meet the legal standards necessary for that type of relief, so I was very pleased at the outcome,” Condotti said. “What we were proposing was totally consistent with restrictions imposed by the 9th circuit in the Martin case. It wasn’t reasonably likely that the plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim.”

Alicia Kuhl is the Ross Camp liaison who lives in her RV and is a named plaintiff in the case. She said the health and safety concerns were overblown and the camp did not have to be closed at all, even temporarily, to address them. Kuhl has raised this point several times over the past few weeks in City Council meetings, interviews and during the hearing.

“We have to address the issues at the Ross Camp, conform to a little bit better of a standard and let people be there until they have an adequate alternative,” Kuhl said. “[The city] never even tried.”

Deputy City Attorney Reed Gallogly, co-counsel for the city, said while presenting the background of the case to Judge Davila that conditions at Ross Camp did not permit a tent-by-tent cleanup because the entire top layer of soil needed to be scraped off the ground.

Camp residents and houseless advocates said residents were willing to vacate the camp as long as adequate alternative shelter was available. Prince, attorney for the California Homeless Union and plaintiffs’ counsel, said the irreparable harm he sought to prove arose out of lack of alternative shelter.

Crystal Olsson, one of the first residents of the camp, testified that before the camp came to be, she knew of one houseless woman who was followed and sexually assaulted on her way to Pogonip. She testified that she knew of another who was found hanging by the neck with her hands bound behind her back, and another whose dismembered corpse was found in a shopping cart. Many in the camp shared her concerns.

Taking to the Stand

The plaintiffs called several witnesses to attest to the danger they feared outside the camp, the lack of adequate shelter and the possibility of cleaning the camp without displacing residents.

The objections and cross-examination questions Gallogly raised prompted groans of exasperation from the audience on several occasions. 

Among these were Gallogly’s assertions on cross-examination that council member Drew Glover’s previous spelling of his name as “Dru Glover” in high school — spelling “drug lover” — and a prior drug conviction made him a biased witness. 

“I thought it was really inappropriate […] and it was disrespectful, highly disrespectful to a sitting city council member,” Prince said. “It was just a way to try to divert attention away from the substance and his testimony.”

City Attorney Tony Condotti also questioned his co-counsel’s line of inquiry.

“The reference to events or issues from the distant past really didn’t have much of a bearing, if any, on council member Glover’s credibility or testimony,” Condotti said. “I thought that was a little overzealous.”

Gallogly only accepted yes or no as responsive answers during cross-examination, moving to strike from the record any attempts at contextualization by witnesses as non-responsive. 

Moving Forward

Prince said he is still considering whether to appeal Judge Davila’s decision with the 9th Circuit. 

“We think we made an adequate record in the court, such that the TRO should remain in place,” Prince said. “At least until everyone was actually in a shelter […] and I think we did show that there’s the danger of irreparable harm.”

Alicia Kuhl said former Ross Camp residents will attempt to minimize those harms by setting up camp in a different location.

Uniform tents at the Benchlands location in San Lorenzo Park. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

Despite the setback, Prince said that the plaintiffs aren’t finished yet.

“We say homeless, not helpless and I think this lawsuit has proved it. It was filed by a bunch of homeless people,” Prince said. “We feel pretty good about that, we don’t know if that’s ever happened before in Santa Cruz, where a group of homeless persons have been able to push back against the city in this manner. We’re in the ring, we won a round, they won a round, and the fight continues.”

Editor’s Note: City Attorney Condotti and Deputy City Attorney Gallogly both personally apologized to council member Glover for attempting to discredit his testimony on the basis of events from when Glover was a teenager or young adult.



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