A temporary restraining order that prevented the city of Berkeley from sweeping a homeless encampment on Eighth and Harrison streets will be dissolved, Judge Edward Chen of the North District court decided Wednesday.
Yesica Prado, journalist and encampment resident, who originally filed the complaint and temporary restraining order, watched the court proceedings from her RV, and Eighth and Harrison residents gathered around a legal aide tent to watch a livestream of the court proceedings Wednesday.
“It was a difficult hearing,” Prado said. “I’m definitely scared for what’s gonna happen and how the city’s going to try to come down here because of previous experiences. I’m hoping the judge will lay out some ground so we can do a cleanup in a humane way instead of coming in and trashing everything.”
Prado initially filed for the restraining order due to a Sept. 1 notice posted by the city on Harrison Street that she and three other plaintiffs interpreted as a warning of a sweep over a holiday weekend in which many residents could not access city services, according to her attorney Melissa Riess.
During the court hearing yesterday, Marc Shapp, attorney for the city of Berkeley, confirmed with Chen during court proceedings that the Sept. 1 notice was for an abatement measure to address health and safety concerns due to syringes and rat burrows found in the encampment. The notice asked residents to consolidate their belongings to 3×3 feet of space without making it clear where residents could keep their remaining belongings, Riess alleged.
Prado referred to a previous contentious sweep of Eighth and Harrison in October 2022 that caused distrust between encampment residents and the city of Berkeley. The previous sweep resulted in the removal of 29 tents, the confiscation and destruction of four vehicles and two arrests, according to Riess.
“The city has a history of using abatements as effective evictions,” Riess said. “A year ago, they posted similar abatement notices at this exact location citing health hazards and abatement, a cleanup essentially. In effect, it was an attempt at an encampment closure rather than a simple cleanup as stated in the notice.”
Although the restraining order will be dissolved, Riess believes the residents of Eighth and Harrison still had some wins.
Judge Chen acknowledged the vague wording of the Sept. 1 notice put up by the city, and he said it did not reflect the city’s actual intentions. He called for clear wording and a 72 hour notice of cleanups or sweeps over workdays.
Chen also called for the city’s policy of holding belongings for up to 90 days during an abatement to allow the city to hold even soiled or dirty bedding and tents, which unhoused residents use as survival tools, because Riess brought up that the city allegedly has failed to store unhoused resident’s items. As a result, residents decline storage space out of fear of having their belongings thrown away.
Chen suggested the city fumigate RV’s with rat infestations instead of towing them due to the shelter they provide unhoused residents.
During the court hearing, Shapp claimed the city offered housing to every encampment resident. However, Riess disagreed and brought up that residents often face difficulties with the rules and regulations of the shelters.
Residents at Eighth and Harrison streets were offered shelter at the Campus Motel, previously the Super 8 Motel, which does not allow for visitors, resulting in a socially isolating environment.
Riess alleged the inability of residents to bring more than one emotional support animal or to decorate their spaces with “found objects” impacted their ability to stay.
Chen said that while he understood residents’ difficulties, the Americans with Disabilities Act did not cover the accommodations mentioned by Riess because plaintiffs had not connected documented disability reasoning to the need to decorate shelter space or have multiple emotional support animals.
Brigitte Nicoletti, another of Prado’s lawyers, said she does not know what the city’s next steps will be, but Riess anticipates the city will not take action this week as the remaining workweek contains less than 72 hours.
Peter Radu, assistant to the Berkeley city manager, said he could not comment until the judge’s formal ruling.
“There are still significant issues that are ongoing in terms of accommodations for people in the way the city conducts outreach and the way it offers and provides them shelter,” Riess said. “Those issues were outside the scope of what we filed a few weeks ago to prevent the city from moving forward with this specific action, but it continues to be an issue for residents at Harrison, and unhoused residents of Berkeley.”