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Attorney wants Caltrans to revise its homeless-encampment clean-up process

March 22, 2010 - 7:04 pm

Scott Norman, an attorney with the Dreher Law Firm, sent me some photos yesterday showing signs posted underneath the I-5 freeway at Commercial Street:

Clearly the notice is aimed at homeless folks who camp out under the bridge—usually when it’s raining. To the right is a photo I took of the sign this morning. It’s not too easy to spot, or read. That’s been the issue for attorneys with the ACLU and the Dreher Law Firm, who sued the city of San Diego after homeless folks’ stuff was  destroyed in September by city workers. Attorneys argued that the abatement lacked proper notice and, because personal property was destroyed rather than impounded, violated city law. (The city’s now posting bright green signs that clearly state when a clean-up will take place.)

I talked to Caltrans spokesperson Edward Cartagena briefly about the notices. He said contractors will clear out an area if there’s a complaint or if there’s construction work to be done. He believes that the notices in this case were complaint-driven, but said he’d get back to me tomorrow to say for sure. Caltrans has jurisdiction over any area underneath a freeway overpass, he said.

Today, Scott Dreher sent a letter to Caltrans District Director Lorie Berman, referencing Scott Norman’s site visit:

While we understand that your department has an interest in maintaining clean streets, the visit underscored some serious concerns with the form and content of the ‘notices’ and the planned abatements. For example, at the Commercial Avenue location, the notices were not placed in a conspicuous or obvious manner designed to attract attention. Rather, they consist of two small gray signs camouflaged against two similarly gray lampposts.

Dreher points out that under the terms of a 2008 settlement between Caltrans, the city of Fresno and a group of homeless people, public agencies must provide “meaningful” notice that’s visible and states clearly when an abatement will take place and how a person can go about reclaiming his or her property should it be impounded. The Commercial Street notices included none of that information.

Dreher’s asking Caltrans to cease all abatements unless they agree to revise their procedures.

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