Caltrans permitted by appeals court to clear encampments near Berkeley

photo of encampment
William Webster/Senior Staff
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that Caltrans is allowed to clear houseless encampments without providing alternate housing, sparking concerns over disabilities, security and relocation.

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The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, is permitted to clear houseless encampments beside Interstate 80 near Berkeley without having to provide alternate housing, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Wednesday.

The court case, which was initially filed in 2021 by plaintiff Where Do We Go Berkeley against Caltrans, followed the district court’s previous injunction based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which allowed the residents to remain.

“We’re grateful for the ruling that allows Caltrans to maintain the state’s roadway infrastructure for the safety of travelers and to ensure people experiencing homelessness are not in unsafe and unhealthy encampments on rights of way,” said Caltrans spokesperson Janis Mara in an email.

Mara added that Caltrans will continue working with the city of Berkeley, Alameda County and other local agencies to move unhoused individuals into “housing and services.”

However, some community activists are concerned that the court ruling does not require that Caltrans provide housing solutions to the residents being displaced.

Ian Cordova Morales, president and lead advocate of Where Do We Go Berkeley, alleged that disability concerns were not taken into consideration in the ruling, describing it as “the main constitutional issue.” He added that alternate solutions were not offered for the security concerns cited in the case.

“The idea was we were asking that Caltrans let people stay there until people get into housing shelters with reasonable accommodations, which takes a bit of time,” Morales said. “We didn’t have support from the city, county (or) anybody.”

According to Morales, Where Do We Go Berkeley will help the affected residents move out of the encampments to ensure their safety. He said most of the residents will go to the city of Berkeley, but they are unable to stay in parks and shelters.

Berkeley City Council District 7 candidate Aidan Hill also said they were worried about what will happen to the residents after their displacement.

“A lot of people will be forced into shelters and endure violence again,” Hill said. “People come to Berkeley for sanctuary … if you choose to press that button to evict someone just because they’re poor, you’re basically choosing to no longer be responsible for (their) health and care.”

Hill also emphasized that unhoused individuals do not have access to basic needs, including hand-washing stations and basic health care.

Morales believes the court should have asked Caltrans to take more responsibility in outreaching clients.

“It’s state land. They’re receiving millions of dollars from the state, so they should be asked to do more.” Morales said. “At the end of the day, a lot of responsibility falls on cities as people wouldn’t be on Caltrans land if cities didn’t push them there.”

Contact Aileen Wu at [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @aileenwu_.