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City Attorney responds (a little snarkily) to homeless-property lawsuit

December 4, 2009 - 1:35 pm

On Tuesday, I blogged about a lawsuit filed by attorney Scott Dreher and the ACLU over the city’s destruction of homeless peoples’ property. Yesterday, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith sent a letter to Dreher [pdf], saying, basically, that he felt blindsided by the lawsuit and that Dreher should have discussed it with him beforehand. In the letter, Goldsmith also accuses the ACLU of being more interested in going after the city for attorney’s fees than helping the homeless * suggests that should the lawsuit proceed, it would “clearly indicate that this is all about attorney fees.” Goldsmith urges Dreher and the ACLU to drop the lawsuit:

Pursue the lawsuit and we will vigorously defend it. We believe the City’s policies met state and federal law. The ACLU’s failure to talk with us first will clearly indicate that this is all about attorney fees for the ACLU and not about the purported goal of a lawsuit. This motivation will be transparent to any judge reviewing this litigation.

Dreher told me he’s surprised that the City Attorney’s office didn’t know about the lawsuit:

The day the Winter Shelter opened, the police officers in the area were walking around asking homeless people about whether there was going to be a lawsuit, what’s the status, have they heard anything about such a lawsuit? So it’s not like the city wasn’t curious. They could have just asked me. And, we sent [public records] requests to the city, which the City Attorney’s office handled, regarding the three specific abatements on Oct. 20. The city responded right away with some [photos] and in writing requested clarification on other requests. We clarified in writing on Nov. 9, and they produced more stuff this past Wednesday.

As for comment about attorney’s fees, Dreher said the case had nothing to do with money. “When I got that letter, I was going to send Jan a little one-line letter saying, ‘You mean we can get attorney’s fees?'”

Dreher said there are no plans to dismiss the case; the first hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon in federal court where plaintiffs’ will seek a temporary restraining order barring the city from throwing away homeless peoples’ possessions during any enforcement activity, whether it be a sweep or individual arrests. City law says property valued at $100 or greater must be cataloged and held at the police station. (Update: The hearing was moved to Tuesday afternoon at the city’s request.)

“If [the city] will agree not to do any more of these raids, then we’ll call off the TRO hearing,” Dreher said. “Then we can go to mediation and talk about something that works for everybody.”

For a copy of Dreher’s response letter, click here [pdf].

* This portion of the post was updated on Dec. 12 to clarify the city attorney’s position. Both sides have agreed to meet to discuss the case.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Judicial Constraints? permalink
    December 4, 2009 - 1:43 pm 1:43 pm

    Concerning Mr. G-smith’s statement about “failure to talk first… clearly indicate…motivation”: Would a judge truly reject an otherwise legit suit on that basis?

  2. December 4, 2009 - 2:56 pm 2:56 pm

    A little snarkily?

  3. December 4, 2009 - 6:29 pm 6:29 pm


    We have a Code Compliance case from October 2008 that has not been resolved by the City Attorney’s office. We would like the issue to be finalized before the June 8, 2010 California Elections so that everyone understands the law.

    Naval Training Center NTC/Liberty Station is owned by the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency (the City Council) and is on public property. McMillin is the tenant on the $1 lease and then subleases to other business. McMillian and NTC leases are subject to the NTC Sign Plan which does not allow non-conforming signs. The photographs show large Election Campaign signs for “Judge Jan Goldsmith for City Attorney” on public City-owned property at North Harbor Drive and Laning Road. For the June 2008 election there were many ReElect Jerry Sanders for Mayor campaign signs around NTC.

    When this issue was brought up to Code Compliance by many Point Lomans, Code Compliance stated McMillin owned the public reclaimed tidelands and they were allowed to put up campaign signs on their private property according to First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    In early 2009 the City Council asked the City Attorney’s office to write a Legal Opinion regarding Campaign signs on public property. Instead the City Council request has been ignored and no Legal Opinion was issued by the City Attorney’s office. Even without the City Attorney’s Legal Opinion, we hope McMillin understand that NTC/Liberty Station is public land and Campaign signs are not allowed on our public property.

    The Neighborhood Use Permit No. 274911 for the NTC/Liberty Station Sign Plan (Project No. 86572) was approved by the Planning Commission on June 21, 2007. At this time the Environmental Impact Report Addendum 86572 was certified which did not allow any other signs on our public property which was not specifically approved in the Sign Plan.

    McMillin agree to abide by the Lease, the NTC Reuse Plan, the Precise Plan, and Sign Plan which was presented at Public Meetings at the City of San Diego Historic Resources Board, the Peninsula Community Planning Board, the Point Loma Asssociation, and the Airport Authority and is part of the NTC Visitor and Community Emphasis Overlay (VCEO) Zone.

    Maybe if McMillin paid the going rate to taxpayers (instead of $1) to lease the public tidelands area and the approved Sign Plan and Permit did not exist. Instead of resolving the outstanding Code Violation by issuing a Legal Opinion based on the law, the City Attorney just ignored the issue and the request by the City Council. No one knows what will happen at the next election cycle in June 2010 when McMilin puts up Political signs for the Republican party.

  4. Rick Skinner permalink
    December 19, 2009 - 3:48 pm 3:48 pm

    I have written Judge Goldsmith many letters. His office has no response except to complain to my attorney. I am being charged for sending obscene and threatening emails to my girlfriend’s exhusband, who fabricated the emails after I filed for a temporary restraining order (which was granted). The harassment from the Ex has stopped but the City Attorney is taking me to trial with only the evidence of hard-copies of fabricated emails. My attorney subpoenaed the originals and they don’t exist. I would love to talk to the City Attorney’s Office and hear there theory to prosecute. There is nothing more to this…except the alledged victim has spit in my face, broken the tail lights of my truck and harrassed me into changing my phone number twice. I have a voice-mail of him threatening to kill me too. Talk to me.

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