.Underdogs Score Another Legal Win Against Sausalito

Another week, another loss in federal court for the City of Sausalito.

At last count, Sausalito is battling six active lawsuits filed by homeless people who are representing themselves. Although each case is different, the underlying allegations are similar: city officials are violating their civil rights.

The judges presiding over the cases in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California are finding merits in the arguments brought before them by homeless people. To date, many of the rulings have fallen in favor of the homeless folks.

David versus Goliath certainly comes to mind to anyone watching the court proceedings. Sausalito sends in attorneys from high-powered law firms to wage battle against homeless people without law degrees. Still, the city is losing round after round in court.

The city has chosen to fight every lawsuit filed by the homeless people, even when the issues could be easily resolved. A reasonable person might question why Sausalito officials continue with this take-no-prisoners stance.

The situation is particularly absurd considering the staff report issued last week by Sausalito City Manager Chris Zapata. The city has a serious budget deficit, and the report cites “unplanned expenses related to homelessness” as a major factor.

Arthur Bruce, who prefers the term “houseless,” is the latest person to trounce Sausalito in federal court. Last week, Bruce, 43, succeeded in obtaining a temporary restraining order against the city and Lt. Stacie Gregory of the Sausalito Police Department.

The brouhaha between Bruce and Gregory began in January, when the city-sanctioned homeless encampment was moved from Marinship Park to nearby tennis courts. Bruce signed up for a space in the tennis courts; however, Gregory said Bruce wasn’t homeless and refused to allow him in.

In February, Bruce purchased a parking pass and began sleeping in his vehicle in the city parking lot adjacent to the tennis courts. He felt safer there and wanted to be near the public bathroom. In a confrontation caught on video, police officers came to the parking area to revoke the parking pass Bruce had just purchased because he didn’t have a tent in the tennis courts.

Bruce was caught in a Catch-22 created by the city. Last year, the Sausalito City Council passed an ordinance requiring its homeless residents to sleep only in the city-sanctioned encampment.

Although Bruce didn’t want to file a lawsuit, he says Sausalito backed him into a corner.

“The city forced me to break their own rules,” Bruce said in an interview. “On its face, it’s discrimination and retaliation.”

Judge Edward Chen agreed that the city’s actions in this case are problematic. Under Chen’s questioning, Sausalito’s attorney, Arthur Gaus of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, failed to explain where homeless people are supposed to go if they can’t sleep in the encampment.

In addition, Chen said the situation raises serious issues under Martin v Boise. In Martin v Boise, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that people cannot be punished for sleeping on public property when a city is not able to offer them an adequate shelter option.

The next hearing is scheduled for early May. Until then, Bruce may sleep in his vehicle at the parking lot next to the Marinship tennis courts without fear of the police ticketing, harassing or retaliating against him.

Bruce became emotional after hearing the judge rule in his favor and appeared to shed a few tears.

“I’m a nice guy until I’m bullied,” Bruce said. “We’ve been getting stepped on for years. Being able to park near a bathroom was a big victory for me.”

Nikki Silverstein
Got a Hero or a Zero? Please send submissions to [email protected] Toss roses, hurl stones with more Heroes and Zeroes at pacificsun.com.
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