Homeless Californians Win $2 Million and Protections in Caltrans Settlement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Monday, July 20, 2020  

Media Contact 

Sam Lew, (415) 272-8022, slew@lccrsf.org , Communications Manager Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area 

Homeless Californians Win $2 Million and Protections in Caltrans Settlement 

Caltrans will pay $2 million for destroying unhoused people’s belongings and modify its procedures for “sweeps” of encampments 

SAN FRANCISCO – Under a settlement that was approved last week by the Alameda County Superior Court between the California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) and a class of homeless people whose property was taken by Caltrans crews in sweeps of their encampments, Caltrans will establish a $1.3 million fund to compensate people for the loss of property that was destroyed in the sweeps, and pay $700,000 to Homeless Action Center to provide housing and benefits services for unhoused class members. In addition, Caltrans will be required to adopt various policies designed to prevent future destruction of homeless people’s property, including posting the exact date they plan to conduct a cleanup operation. 

“For years, Caltrans has unjustly seized the of property of unhoused people, violating the Fourth Amendment, and has swept countless homeless encampments, leaving the most vulnerable people in our society with nowhere to go,” said Elisa Della-Piana, Legal Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “We have spent the last four years fighting and are thrilled to win this settlement to help some of our unhoused neighbors have the chance to get back on their feet without being continually destabilized by property seizures.”  

The settlement comes as a result of a lawsuit filed in 2016 on behalf of homeless Californians who challenged the destruction of their property including food, clothing, medical supplies, and family heirlooms during Caltrans sweeps between December 2014 and October 2019. 

They were represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF), East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), ACLU of Northern California, and the law firm WilmerHale. 

“This settlement could not have been achieved without the courage and persistence of our clients, who fought so hard to vindicate the rights of all class members. We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of a new relationship between Caltrans and the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Bill Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California. 

Under a pilot project provided for in the settlement, in Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville Caltrans will be required to post permanent notices at encampments stating the precise dates and times that sweeps will occur. The state will follow specific guidelines mandating the storage of tents, eyeglasses, medications, and personal papers and photos. 

Caltrans will also reimburse a small portion of the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and costs incurred in the four-year litigation, and commits to improve its recordkeeping and personnel training practices. 

The Court will retain the power to enforce the promises made by Caltrans for seven years. 

“These challenging times in which we are living we hope reinforce our sense of shared humanity and dignity, and this settlement represents a significant step forward in recognizing the constitutional rights of some of our most vulnerable Californians,” said Laura Goodall, senior associate at WilmerHale. “We have the utmost gratitude for our class representatives —  Kimberlee Sanchez, Jim Leone, and Patricia Moore – whose commitment and determination to this litigation gave their often unheard communities an important voice in our legal system.” 

Read the final judgment here. 

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