Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney resoundingly rejected the City of San Luis Obispo’s motion to dismiss, allowing a case brought by unhoused residents and Hope’s Village SLO to move forward.
Five unhoused and low-income Plaintiffs, along with Hope’s Village SLO, filed the lawsuit challenging the City’s pervasive and consistent practice of citing, fining, arresting, and moving unhoused people to different locations in the absence of adequate and available shelter. They also allege that the City takes and destroys the personal belongings of unhoused persons, including tents, tarps, blankets, and life-saving medication.
“I hope that this will result in good things happening and more awareness of homelessness issues in the City, and more understanding that what has been happening has been wrong and things have to change.” – Plaintiff Edward Marquez.
The City’s behavior has been particularly cruel during the pandemic, as the constant moving of people contributes to heightened risk of the spread of COVID-19.
”We hope that this ruling causes the City to rethink fighting Plaintiffs’ well-founded claims, and instead come to the table to find real solutions to the homelessness crisis in San Luis Obispo.” – Lauren Hansen, Staff Attorney at PILP
Instead of trying to resolve Plaintiffs’ claims, the City expended wasteful resources trying to fight the case, filing a motion to dismiss, asking the Court to dismiss all of the Plaintiff’s claims, and alleging that Hope’s Village did not have standing to bring a lawsuit. However, on February 7, 2022, Judge Carney denied the motion in its entirety, allowing the Plaintiffs’ case to move forward and requiring the City to file an answer to their Complaint. With respect to the lawsuit’s claim that the City’s practice of punishing people for living outdoors when adequate shelter is unavailable violates the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the court stated: “[The City] may not, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, criminalize resting outside on public property when there is insufficient sleeping space practically available in any shelter” and that “Plaintiffs plausibly allege that [the City] has done so.”
“We believe this is a positive ruling. We are excited to continue to move forward in litigation and fight for the rights of our clients and the unhoused community in SLO.” – Frank Kopcinski, Directing Attorney of CRLA-SLO
After hearing about the ruling, Becky Jorgensen, the Director of Hope’s Village SLO, a local nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness said:
“We have tried for 10 years to get more help for our homeless people who have little or no income or chance of getting housing. We have tried to persuade the City to follow the law. Someone has to break the chain. Let it be us.”
Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.
CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food. When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.
Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles
Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.
Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic. These county delays make it harder for people — especially houseless people — to access food and take care of their health.
Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)
The lawsuit — filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days. Counsel for Petitioners/Plaintiffs are PILP, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.
This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering. Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.
Alex Prieto, Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty
In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.
The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.
Lena Silver, Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA)
Learn more about the case:
At a critical time for lower-income communities and people of color, PILP seeks an experienced attorney to join one of California’s premier legal services support centers. Our experienced team engages in systemic, anti-racist advocacy with local and regional legal services offices to advance racial and economic justice and equity. How to apply.
On September 17, 2021, PILP, along with California Legal Rural Assistance and Law Office of Babak Naficy filed a lawsuit against the City of San Luis Obispo in federal court, seeking to stop the City’s practice of criminalizing homelessness, unlawfully breaking up homeless encampments during a global pandemic, and illegally seizing and destroying homeless individuals’ property in violation of their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Plaintiffs include City residents who while experiencing homelessness during a pandemic have been subjected to the City’s unlawful and cruel practices and in the process, have suffered mental anguish, lost personal property — such as tents, tarps, blankets, life-saving medication, and documents —and have been denied the right to rest. Plaintiffs also include Hope’s Village of SLO, a local nonprofit organization that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
“How does the City expect us to get ahead if they keep taking our belongings?” – An Unhoused Individual
The City’s practice of breaking up encampments is particularly egregious because the City’s only homeless shelter, 40 Prado, is at best capable of housing only a fraction of the City’s homeless population, and is not accessible to many individuals with PTSD or others disabilities that make it impossible for them to stay at 40 Prado.
“We repeatedly engaged with the City’s representatives in order to reach an amicable resolution of these intractable problems. Unfortunately, the City is unwilling to agree to any substantive changes” said Frank Kopcinski , Directing Attorney of CRLA-SLO.
The lawsuit comes after the City repeatedly broke up homeless camps, destroyed homeless individuals’ property, and cited and arrested unhoused individuals, despite being capable of providing shelter to only a fraction of the City’s unhoused individuals. The City has continued to threaten and to harass homeless individuals, who have no alternative housing or shelter, apparently seeking only to remove them from sight within City limits.
“This is a human rights issue. We hope the lawsuit will stop the City’s practice of harassing, citing, and arresting people who are trying to sleep on public land.” – Becky Jorgeson, Hope’s Village SLO
Evicting unhoused individuals from encampments during the pandemic without ensuring that there is alternative housing to the displaced unhoused individuals violates the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for addressing homeless encampments during the Pandemic.
The City’s practices also constitute discrimination against individuals with disabilities in violation for federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Cal. Gov. Code section 11135 and other Federal anti-discrimination laws.
The Public Interest Law Project (PILP) provides crucial litigation and advocacy support to local legal services and public interest law programs throughout California. Our work brings affordable housing to lower income families and homeless people, provides access to services and public benefits for lower income persons and persons with disabilities, and protects neglected and abused children and persons displaced by major disasters and government action. Learn more
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal issued an August 25, 2021 opinion affirming the trial court’s rejection of a preliminary injunction motion by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to stop the COVID eviction moratorium enacted by the City of Los Angeles in March 2020. The Public Interest Law Project joined co-counsel Susman Godfrey LLP, Public Counsel, and Western Center on Law & Poverty to represent intervenors Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). Intervenors provided real life stories of tenants protected by the COVID eviction moratorium, and further legal argument on why the City’s moratorium is Constitutional. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion is the first federal appellate court to rule on the Contracts Clause as it relates to COVID eviction moratoria, and may be useful to deter further challenges on that basis for the moratoria enacted throughout the country.
Petitioners Desiree Martinez and Maria de Jesus Sanchez, represented by PILP and Central California Legal Services, sued the City of Clovis to force the City’s Housing Element to comply with state law. On April 30, 2021, the Fresno County Superior Court granted Petitioners’ request for writ of mandate, ordering the City of Clovis, an affluent suburb in Fresno County to zone for over 4,000 units of multi-family housing. Despite state law to the contrary, and a very significant need for affordable housing, Clovis refused to zone sites to accommodate multi-family development for well over a decade. Eventually the City’s lack of action resulted in the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) revoking its findings of compliance regarding the City’s 2015-2023 Housing Element. The City then scrambled to come up with a solution to provide capacity for high-density housing and adopted an overlay that allowed multi-family housing on single-family zoned sites. Despite statements by the City Council that this overlay was “voodoo zoning” and wouldn’t result in any multi-family housing, HCD found the overlay brought the City back into compliance with state law. In fact, the Overlay did not provide the minimum densities required by law on sites rezoned to accommodate the Regional Housing Need Allocation and Petitioners were able to overcome HCD’s presumption of validity. The City has 120 days to complete the rezoning.
On April 15, 2021, the California Supreme Court declined the Department of Finance’s request to depublish the opinion in Legal Aid Society v. Department of Finance, 59 Cal. App. 5th 166 (2020). The opinion (also linked below) filed on December 28, 2020, found that over $10 million in the former Redwood City Redevelopment Agency’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund (LMIHF) that was required by contract to be used for affordable housing had been wrongfully determined unrestricted and swept from the former redevelopment agency’s LMIHF along with other unencumbered funds.
In 1990, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County negotiated changes to Redwood City’s housing element to benefit their clients and obtained a commitment from the Redwood City Redevelopment Agency for millions of dollars to be deposited in the LMIHF, over and above the Agency’s statutory requirement, exclusively for the construction, rehabilitation, or preservation of affordable housing. After all redevelopment agencies were dissolved, however, the Department of Finance found that the agreement was not an enforceable obligation and ordered that the funds deposited pursuant to the contract be disbursed to the taxing entities in San Mateo County despite the clear contractual requirements and critical lack of affordable housing in San Mateo County. LASSMC then filed this suit challenging DOF’s decision.
The Court of Appeals ordered the case remanded to the Sacramento County Superior Court which entered Judgment on April 9, 2021 in favor of LASSMC and required DOF to determine that the agreement is an enforceable obligation , as defined by the Dissolution Act, and that the funds are a Housing Asset available for the development of affordable housing.
We Rise with All to Condemn Anti-Asian Hate and Violence
The Public Interest Law Project stands in solidarity and defense of all Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and we condemn the recent violence against them and the racist rhetoric about the origins of COVID-19 propagated by people in power and incited by certain corporate media. Inheritors of a long and ongoing history of discrimination in the United States, Asian and Pacific Islander communities once again must face down the latest ravages of hate and violence. Read our full statement.
Black Lives Matter. The suffering inflicted by COVID-19 falls disproportionately on black and brown people due to a much more sinister pandemic—the centuries long plague of systemic racism that killed Mr. Rayshard Brooks, Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery and millions of other black persons — and inflicts indelible sorrow and persistent subjugation. Born from, spread and sustained by privileged white society, there is no vaccine, no antigen for racism and privilege. There is only acceptance of responsibility, active opposition and concession of ill-gotten power and resources by the perpetrators, beneficiaries, and complicit. Read our full statement here.