SLO seizes homeless property days after LA loses legal bid

August 12, 2013
Strollers city staff paid to have taken from a campsite to the dump.

Strollers city staff paid to have taken from a campsite to the dump.

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

San Luis Obispo calls the tents, bikes and personal belongings of homeless people “found property.” Workers for the company that gets $1,600 a day to seize and send the property to the landfill call it “homeless trash.”

The people whose belongings are taken call it “everything” – from items for their young children to the tents they sleep in, clothing, toiletries and even their mail.

San Luis Obispo continues to seize the property of homeless people even though courts have ruled against other California cities over the taking and destruction of that personal property.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept an appeal from Los Angeles over a district court injunction ordering the city to stop taking and destroying the property of homeless people.

The district court issued the order as part of a lawsuit filed by eight homeless people in Los Angeles over the seizure and destruction of their property. The homeless plaintiffs argued that their 4th Amendment rights had been violated when the city took the property.

It wasn’t the first time Los Angeles faced legal action over such seizures. The city has been faced with at least three other suits over unconstitutional seizures since the 1980s.

Los Angeles is not the only city to face legal action over such practices. In 2006, homeless plaintiffs sued Fresno for bulldozing their encampments. A U.S. district court ruled that the city’s actions violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Fresno paid $2.35 million to settle the case.

San Luis Obispo Assistant City Manager Michael Codron says the city is committed to complying with personal property laws.

“It is not the city’s policy to dispose of any found personal property or possessions except in accordance with legal requirements,” Codron wrote in an email.

On June 27, three days after the Supreme Court refused to accept the Los Angeles appeal, workers for Eco Solutions targeted a homeless encampment under the Marsh Street Bridge. Eco Solutions is the company that receives approximately $1,600 for its cleanup days aimed at the homeless.

The workers hauled away baby blankets and formula. Workers also confiscated and disposed of two baby strollers from the encampment. A CalCoastNews reporter witnessed the removal of the strollers.

The strollers appeared to be in good condition, but the crew hauled them to the Cold Canyon Landfill.

Eco Solutions employees said that if campers are present when crews arrive for an encampment cleanup, the crews tell those living in the camps to grab whatever they can quickly carry away. If no one is at the camp, as is often the case when the crews arrive, they load everything in a truck and haul it off to the landfill.

“We are just cleaning up homeless trash,” said an Eco Solutions employee who did not want to provide his name.

One homeless man told CalCoastNews that he returned to his campsite one day to find that a cleanup crew confiscated all of his belongings, including his mail.

Another man, Danny Braninburg, said in 2011, a crew confiscated all the belongings from a camp in which he lived for two years. At any given time, five to 30 other homeless individuals lived in the creek side camp behind the San Luis Obispo Elks Lodge. The belongings confiscated included tents, bicycles, an electric generator and CD players.

“It was my house,” Braninburg said. “I was going through surgery. I couldn’t move.”

Braninburg said the crew also disposed of the carpet he laid that stretched from a nearby trail to his home.

“There was nothing left there but dirt,” he said.

After losing his campsite, Braninburg tried living in his vehicle, but he received 17 illegal lodging tickets from the city, he said.

Another homeless San Luis Obispo resident, Billy Huerta, lost his belongings to a sweep under the bridge on Prado Road in 2012. Huerta returned to his campsite to find his clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries and the rest of his belongings missing.

“They took everything,” Huerta said. “You gotta start all over again.”

Other homeless individuals who have lost belongings to creek cleanups fear they will endure retaliation for sharing their experiences with the media.

A number of cities, including Los Angeles have used property seizures to deal with homeless people. As part of a downtown cleanup campaign, Los Angeles sanitation workers and police took and trashed property left temporarily by residents in the primarily homeless community of Skid Row. Much of the property taken came from shopping carts, cardboard boxes and mobile shelters built by charity groups for the homeless. The property had been left unattended by the homeless while getting meals, using restrooms, filling water jugs or receiving services from social services programs.

In 2011, eight homeless people sued Los Angeles for confiscating their property. A federal district court issued an injunction against city seizure of homeless property left unattended. The district court prohibited Los Angeles from confiscating homeless individuals’ possessions unless they posed immediate threats to public health or if they were evidence of a crime.

The 9th Circuit said that the property of the homeless people could not be taken just because they broke a Los Angeles ordinance against leaving property on the sidewalk.

“Violation of a City ordinance does not vitiate the Fourth Amendment’s protection of one’s property. Were it otherwise, the government could seize and destroy any illegally parked car or unlawfully unattended dog without implicating the Fourth Amendment,” the panel wrote in its decision to uphold the district court order.

Los Angeles also had to comply with rules that give the homeless notice that work crews would be in the area, so the homeless could ensure that no one took their possessions. That notice has to give the homeless an opportunity to be heard before their property is taken, the district court said. Los Angeles also had to follow existing rules to give the homeless 90 days to retrieve their belongings that were improperly taken.

Prior to encampment cleanups, San Luis Obispo city employees often provide warnings to those inhabiting the camps, city and Eco Solution staff said. Some homeless individuals, however, contend the crews have torn down their camps and confiscated their belongings without providing any advance notice.

Parks and Recreation staff and employees of Eco Solutions told CalCoastNews it is city policy to provide camp inhabitants one week’s notice of an upcoming cleanup, but that not everyone living in the camps receives the warnings.

Camping in city creeks and open spaces is illegal in San Luis Obispo, as is sleeping at night in vehicles. Many homeless individuals, however, risk tickets, fines and jail time by sleeping in or by creek beds, commonly under bridges.

San Luis Obispo pays Eco to tear down camps citywide and haul off belongings to the dump. Camps Eco Solutions crews dispose of include those under the Marsh Street, Madonna Road and Prado Road bridges. In the months of February through June 2013, Eco Solutions received contracts for four encampment cleanup days, according to city financial statements.

While San Luis Obispo has not faced a lawsuit for confiscation of property belonging to the homeless, the city did lose a lawsuit last year over its practice of ticketing people sleeping in their cars.

 


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Russ J

I put all my belongings in a storage unit and lived in my Volkswagon van for 5 monthes one time. I kept moving around and parking in different places at night. It was kinda cool, but I had a job. That’s the key – ya gotta get a job. Wash some dishes, flip some burgers, harvest some crops. There’s always something.


Slowerfaster

“There’s always something.”


Really….


What if there’s not ‘something’ ?

What then, when there is ‘nothing’ ? …When people are desperate….

Not all are resourceful, or have the means to be resourceful..


What then, genius ?

Maybe they can live in your Volkswagen van.


Yeah…THAT’S the ticket !


r0y

While I’d not want to see anyone’s possessions taken, there’s a fine line when your said property is located on property you do not own.


Legally, what is to prevent homeless from pitching a tent and living in your front yard? Can those legalities not also be afforded to the public land trust (city, county, what have you)? I’m not asking to cause a stir, as I realize this is a sensitive topic, but I really do not know how a person can legally live on another’s land without permission, etc. (which is what happens with homeless tent cities, etc).


I can see why the SCOTUS refused the case, it’d be disasterous either way it’s ruled on: If ruled in favor of homeless, there’s nothing stopping anyone from leaving their things wherever they want. If ruled in favor of the municipalities, then there’s no stopping the seizure of property.


There is already a problem with Police seizing property and possessions WITHOUT being convicted or even charged and any ruling towards that would only exacerbate this highly anti-Constitutional practice. (also reported here and other places).


TaxMeAgain

Excellent post r0y.


Slowerfaster

“Happiest place in wherever” !


San Luis Obispo is the modern equivalent of Poe’s tale, “The Masque of the Red Death”.


aft50s

And apparently Eco Solutions did not have a City of SLO business license either – way to go SLO!


aft50s

Is the City of SLO contracting with the same Eco Solutions company operating from out of a home located on Whiteley St. in Arroyo Grande? (Eco Solutions is not listed as holding a business license in AG).


info

LA and other city’s getting sued for not achieving RWQCB stormwater quality limits but at the same time are not granted exceptions for such a pollutant source. Tough situation for both sides.


hijinks

It would be interesting to know, which pollutes more: a homeless person, or the car you drive. Oh, of course, YOU don’t pollute, do you.


info

Hijinks. I pollute. I pollute when I drive my car, motorcycle, boat, watch tv, and turn on lights. We all do in some form – some more than others.


The fact is City’s are getting sued because their storm water runoff to rivers, streams, and oceans are not meeting strict Regional Water Quality Control Board requirements. City’s are spending millions in fixing sewer leaks, reducing pet waste, and installing infrastructure. Yet when excrement is placed/discharged adjacent to our water bodies its impossible to achieve compliance. Does the RWQCB care? No.


What is the solution hijinks? Its not an easy or cheap solution. Should we build restroom and showers near the encampments? Shelters? Can we force or make sure they use the facilities?


Again, its a tough situation for all parties involved. I don’t have a solution – I admit it. Why don’t you start by determining which contributes more to stormwater pollution in our local creeks – my car or a single homeless person. I’m sure your educated enough to figure that out.


sloslo

The city is fine with polluting when it’s their boy Bud Nance and he intentionally dumps hundreds of gallons of toxic chemicals in the corporate yard and keeps his job. But those pesky homeless and their darn possessions better not get in the way.


hijinks2

Isn’t he buds with Gearheart? Didn’t he get a free chevy pickup he got from that contract public works inspector (John H.) who was terminated for taking bribes from contractors to look the other way? Maybe that is all just part of being a good employee, a good and honest public servant?


IronMan

One has to wonder what City leaders and upper City Management what they are thinking when they direct staff to violate the U.S. Constitution. Low level staff warned City Management that this direction would cause legal ramifications. However, staff under Michelle Codron’s direction with Christine Dietrick’s legal blessing apparently have seized private property and illegally disposed of it over and over again. I wonder if this property really went to the landfill? Maybe this seized property became spoils or surplus that Ron Faria took and resold for personal gain? Or maybe Officer Corey Pierce used this program as a way to riffle through peoples personal belongings to secure more drugs for resale? Hmmm, sounds to me like Pierce and Faria have a lot in common, abuse of position of trust for personal gain?


The real question is how much will this blundering move cost the taxpayers? The other question is has the City Manager, Ass City Manager, City Attorney and Ass City Attorney been asleep all these years or can’t they read? Personal property rights and the homeless have been front and center in the news for over a decade and yet all of these supposedly highly educated and overly paid professionals missed these articles. Katie gives a directive and everyone follow’s her orders regardless whether it is right or wrong!


Slowerfaster

Well, IronMan ( kewl username, BTW )… they DON’T think.


So much easier not to.

Being a dirtwad dummie, collecting a nice paycheck and pension is a plumb position !

One has to admire these functionaries for being purposefully clueless while cleverly bedding their own nests.


willnose

Just how low can this city go…???

Pox on those in charge, authority to waste money like this!

Have you no shame, heart, empathy?


TaxMeAgain

I think what is not being said here is that the city is really getting tired of all the homeless. I continually donate money and time to help, but when folks are homeless for two years or more, it begins to feel to me as if I’m being taken advantage of. If you can, stay clean and get a job. Then, I assure you, nobody will ticket you, take your stuff, or bother you, other than the IRS, NSA, OSHA, EPA, TSA,, AT&T and so on.


Slowerfaster

Yeah….boy, theyre getting by lucky; only having all their worldly possessions stolen…er confiscated from them.

No, that’s not ‘being taken advantage of’….just another bad break from poor life choices.


One does have to sympathize with the city bosses in SLO, for the lack of available snowbanks where those inconvenient to look at could just lay down and freeze to death. Such a shame that the climate does not provide that facile solution around here.


obispan

I have to agree. Whatever their faults, and they should be held accountable, the city and CAPSLO do not conspire to keep these people down. Their sense of entitlement reinforces the sentiment that they do.


jrstone

It really makes one wonder where their true alliance goes when the biggest opponent to local churches opening up there parking lots to those houseless with vehicles was CAPSLO (something to do with the churches not being qualified to help the houseless, really? They’ve been mandated by the Bible to do just that for over two thousand years! I would say the churches experience far outdoes CAPSLO’s). Then, from what I’ve been told by numerous people, they were the biggest proponents of the no camping and no sleeping in vehicle ordinances enacted here in SLO. And that’s not all; how ’bout the fact that they choose to pursue opening a new 200 bed facility while touting a ten year plan to end homelessness (Another bit of info’ on that is the houseless population has increased by 115% in SLO since that plan was written in 2008, and they have not revised it to reflect that increase)? How do you end something by facilitating it in a larger way?


This is a business folks! Non-profit or not there is a profit of some sort to make from the ills of others. Whether it’s in salaries, or for bigger and better facilities to serve and employee more, or to rent bigger and better office buildings (how many office buildings does CAPSLO have now? I’ve seen three, maybe four, is there more? And why so many in the first place?) there is profits at hand to consider. I wonder how much of every dollar given to CAPSLO actually gets to the client when it appears that their overhead is quite large (Dee Torres is paid 70K a year, plus benefits, that’s better than one percent of there 60 million dollar budget this year, and she’s only a director! I wonder what the salaries are of the corporate officers? Compare that with the International Director of the Salvation Army who makes 13K a year? Wow! Directing a failing homeless project in a smaller community like SLO has its perks, huh?!) As in medicine, there is no money in cure folks, none! Only in treatment! It should be the goal of every person at CAPSLO to be unemployed and looking for work in the shortest time possible, that’s how they should measure their success.


Jeff Stone