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NewsGovernmentMayor Rich Tran's planned homeless encampment sweeps deemed unconstitutional by Law Foundation

Mayor Rich Tran’s planned homeless encampment sweeps deemed unconstitutional by Law Foundation

A terse letter sent yesterday from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley requested that the City of Milpitas cancel its planned sweep of a major homeless encampment in the city.

The sweep was scheduled to be carried out today, March 1, at a site called the Railroad Encampment.

In advance of today, toward the end of February, the Milpitas Police Department (MPD) issued notices to those occupying the encampment, stating their intention to come and clear the area of unlawfully parked cars along with personal property, shelters, and trash. Said the Law Foundation’s letter, “The Notices issued by the Milpitas Police Department (“MPD”) are insufficient notices and violate the fourth, eighth, and fourteenth amendment [of the Constitution].”

According to Mayor Rich Tran’s Facebook page, another sweep had also been planned for underneath the Calaveras bridge. 

In addition, the letter urged City officials to bear in mind the COVID-19 pandemic, as “During a pandemic, and certainly for the foreseeable future, sweeps will continue to pose a  serious health crisis as they disrupt consistent access to services and ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care.”

More, the letter raised concerns about homeless community members losing their property and thus their survival tools during sweeps, and being deprived of due process in the meantime.

The sweep would have violated the fourth amendment by potentially constituting an unreasonable search and seizure. It would have violated the eighth amendment by possibly amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. It would have violated the fourteenth amendment by possibly depriving homeless residents of their personal property absent a fair hearing or clear due process. 

Said the letter, “The City of Milpitas has no shelters within its borders for alternative short or long-term housing.” It added, “The City seeks to displace its homeless residents without an alternative.”

In plain terms, the Law Foundation urged the City of Milpitas to cancel the sweep. The Foundation also suggested that the City provide its homeless residents with hygienic bathroom facilities as well as trash cans, in addition to suggesting that the City not task MPD with intervening with homeless residents, as a police presence can have a destabilizing and escalating effect. 

Last night, Councilmember Karina Dominguez hosted an event in front of City Hall where she, along with other residents, slept overnight in tents to show their support for meaningful homelessness action in Milpitas. Councilmember Anthony Phan came out as well to show his support. At the event, Dominguez announced that the sweeps had been canceled, and that she felt the Law Foundation’s letter had something to do with it. 

 

At Councilmember Karina Dominguez’s sleep-out in front of City Hall.

 

The letter was signed by Hai Dao of Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, with Community Partners Sasha Ellis (Bay Area Legal Aid) and E Conner (National Lawyers Guild-SFBA Right to Shelter Committee, National Lawyers Guild-SFBA) also cited at the signature line.  

The clearing out of homeless encampments has been a priority of Mayor Tran’s this year. In a recent interview with The Beat, he claimed that it was something that Milpitas families had specifically asked him for.  

Mayor Rich Tran’s plans in regard to the Milpitas unhoused community have been thwarted in the past. In November 2020, Council voted against Tran’s plan to sue Santa Clara County for implementing Project Homekey, a local homeless residency in what was once a Milpitas hotel. Tran also recently expressed that he wanted to cut funding for Santa Clara County’s HEAT program, which works to assess, provide housing for, and offer resources to unhoused residents. Tran said he’d prefer instead to handle the problem within Milpitas. 

“The reality is that we need three votes to save these assessments. And these assessments are critical to our community,” said Councilmember Dominguez at last night’s event. “So critical that I don’t know what we’re going to do if these assessments get defunded. Because that is the only outlet that our homeless have to get homes here in Silicon Valley.”

As cited in the letter, Milpitas currently has no homeless shelters or bathroom facilities for its homeless population. After receiving the letter, the City of Milpitas quickly canceled their planned encampment sweeps. 

When asked how he felt about the Law Foundation’s letter, Mayor Tran responded via text: “The street clean up is on standby pending our City Attorney’s Office review of the LF letter. When cleared by the City Attorney, the intention is to move forward as planned.” 

At tonight’s City Council meeting, Council will be discussing the funding of the HEAT program, along with hearing and providing direction on the recommendations of the Milpitas Homelessness Task Force.   

 

Update: This article’s headline has been slightly altered, due to Mayor Rich Tran’s statement that the sweeps are being postponed and not permanently cancelled. 

 

 

 

Paid for by Evelyn Chua for Milpitas City Council FPPC#1470209spot_img
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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer & filmmaker. As a screenwriter, he’s won a Fade In Award and written numerous feature films in development by companies including WWE, Mandalay Sports Media, Game1, and Select Films. He is also the resident script doctor for Rebel Six Films (producers of A&E’s “Hoarders”). As a journalist, Eric’s won a California Journalism Award and is co-owner and editor of The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper with tens of thousands of monthly readers that has won the Golden Quill Award as well as the John Swett Award for Media Excellence. As a filmmaker, Eric’s directed award-winning feature films that have premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and Shriekfest, and been endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Eric’s apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary” appears next to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Horror Novels of All Time. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The LFSV is an extreme left wing activist organization, as well as the other groups signing the letter. Just because they say it’s “unconstitutional” doesn’t make it so. Sweeps have been happening throughout California and it’s been deemed legal, so what’s changed now? To quote Tran, “The street clean up is on standby pending our City Attorney’s Office review of the LF letter. When cleared by the City Attorney, the intention is to move forward as planned.” So the sweeps are delayed, not cancelled. It was smart of Tran to delay to get the attorneys oficial okay, but these delaying tactics are typical. I’m looking forward to them being completed.

  2. Do the sweep. It is a health hazard to have it there and loitering. Doing nothing will just increase the problem. Phan and Dominguez have no plan but to be against one. Most Milpitas residents agree that something has to be done to clear it.

  3. Where was this legal group when San Jose cleared out the Jungle – the largest homeless encampment in the country? It was a community of neighbors to many who lived there. I wondered why there was not support instead of chasing them out of SJ.

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