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Sacramento DA accuses city of allowing homeless to pollute waterways

Sacramento sees growing legal battle over homeless encampments
Sacramento sees growing legal battle over homeless encampments 03:00

SACRAMENTO - Sacramento's district attorney is once again firing more accusations against the city's response to the homeless crisis. 

On Tuesday, District Attorney Thien Ho filed a 48-page amended lawsuit that said the city is allowing the homeless to pollute waterways and endanger public health.

The DA also said that the homeless camps violate a state Fish and Game Code section that prohibits the polluting of state waters.
He held a walkthrough on the levee near Steelhead Creek showing the impacts of encampments. 

"The city has utterly failed," Ho said. "They need to enforce the law."

This comes after the DA sued the city over its response to the homeless crisis in September, claiming it failed to enforce city ordinances and ban daytime camping. Ho then threatened a criminal lawsuit over Camp Resolution, a homeless encampment, claiming that it sits on a lot contaminated by toxic chemicals. 

Steelhead Creek flows in the Sacramento River at Discovery Park. The county cleaned out the homeless camping on its land after the waters rose last winter, but the tents still line the city's side of West El Camino Avenue. 

Ho's concern is that this area is a flood plain, so when the water rises, debris will go into it and flow downstream. 

Environmentalists said the debris removes the understory of the ecosystem, creates a debris dam for chinook salmon, and disrupts the flood plain. 

Volunteers have removed over 400,000 pounds of trash over the past five years from the homeless camps near Steelhead Creek.

"It is not a choice for 95% of people experiencing homelessness to be outside," said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. 

Homeless advocates said that instead of pointing fingers in a political stunt, we should be working to find solutions.

"In the immediate, trash pick up, etc., or providing porta-potties," said Erlenbusch. 

On Tuesday, the state granted Sacramento a Safe Stay Sleeping Cabin community on Stockton Boulevard. 

The city said this represents real progress in helping the homeless and gave us this statement regarding the district attorney's latest accusations and tour of the levee: 

"In politics, they say there are two kinds of people: work horses and show horses. While the DA was traipsing around on a levee with the press in tow this morning, the City and County of Sacramento were jointly taking an important step toward actually getting people off the street. The County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a Safe Stay sleeping cabin community on Stockton Boulevard with cabins allotted to the city by the state. We are also working with Governor Newsom's office to place an additional 175 sleeping cabins in a county Safe Stay community on Watt Avenue. These developments represent real progress on our partnership. I am grateful to our partners at the county and in the governor's office. We are now up to thousands of new and planned beds since 2017. Enough of the show." 

The attorney for Sacramento's Homeless Union said he would add these latest district attorney accusations to his complaint with the State Bar. If wrongdoing is found, the DA could face a private/public censure, suspension or be disbarred. 

The DA gave CBS13 the following statement on the latest accusations against the city's handling of the homeless crisis:

"On December 5, 2023, our office filed an amended complaint in our civil case against the City of Sacramento (Docket 23CV008658). 

This amendment will allow us to focus on the violations that cause the most significant harm to the health and safety of everyone in the community, including environmental hazards that impact people and wildlife.   

The initial complaint alleged three causes of action: 1) public nuisance, 2) private nuisance, and 3) inverse condemnation. After further investigation revealed that Sacramento waterways are being contaminated due to the City's refusal to abate the nuisance caused by unhoused zones along the levees, we have replaced the last two causes of action with two new and more egregious violations: 1) Statutory Public Nuisance, and 2) Violation of Fish and Game Code section 5650 et.sec. 

Before our office sued the City, I asked them to pass a daytime camping ban similar to the successful San Diego ordinance. Mayor Steinberg refused to do so. I am supportive of the leadership shown by Councilmembers Jennings, Guerra and Kaplan in proposing this new law. It is a long overdue step in the right direction to address our unhoused crisis on the streets and along our rivers."

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