Show of Restraint

While major encampments have been removed from Sherwood Park, signs of human occupation including blankets and a grocery cart still remain.

The notices went out about a month before “Big Week” and the California Rodeo Salinas, and they were to the point: There’s no overnight camping allowed in Sherwood Park. A homeless community had sprung up there, and the notices warned that people’s gear – including tents, shopping carts, tarps and the other belongings of the unsheltered life – would be removed by the city if the owners didn’t remove it first.

And on July 10, six days before the start of the rodeo, the city brought in work crews and trucks and swept the park clean.

“The city announced the prohibition so they could have VIP parking for special guests of the rodeo,” says Anthony Prince, a San Francisco-based attorney who specializes in defending the homeless. “The people that they kicked out of the park, now they’re all sleeping on the sidewalks.”

One of those people, Rita Acosta, decided to take action. On July 9, she went to Monterey County Superior Court and filed for a temporary restraining order against City Manager Ray Corpuz on behalf of all residents of Sherwood Park. In her request, Acosta asked a judge to prevent the city, Salinas police and city contractors from implementing the sweep and prevent them from using such actions as a means to seize and destroy people’s personal property. Acosta also asked a judge to order the city to produce a list of city-owned or controlled buildings – including commercial and industrial properties – where homeless people displaced from Sherwood Park could be relocated.

The restraining order was denied, but a hearing was still set for Aug. 29, and then rescheduled for Sept. 13 after Judge Vanessa Vallarta, who previously was the city attorney for Salinas, recused herself due to the conflict.

But in the midst of the legal maneuvering, the city filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Acosta, arguing that her request for a restraining order violates Corpuz’s right to free speech.

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SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and in Corpuz’s anti-SLAPP motion, he’s asking a judge to order Acosta to pay the city’s attorney fees, which, as of Aug. 22, Assistant City Attorney Michael Mutalipassi pegged at $4,660.

“The city gets a lot of frivolous lawsuits and this is one of them,” Mutalipassi says. “The condition of the park was pretty bad, especially as it related to finding (hypodermic) needles near where children play.”

Prince, who in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the city when it enacted an ordinance allowing officials to remove people’s belongings and shelters from the Chinatown area, says the encampment at Sherwood had been well-policed and self-policed by the homeless living there. Acosta was named as a plaintiff in that federal suit, which a judge dismissed in 2016, ruling the city acted lawfully.

Of the anti-SLAPP motion, Prince says, “It’s ridiculous. They’re using it against public participation and it’s a complete perversion of the statute. This was a straightforward effort to restrain the city from expelling people from the park and this was a perfectly acceptable way for us to do this.”

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(1) comment

James Sang

I agree with the city that the homeless leave a mess! And I don't like what they are doing to the areas where they are at, but what are these people to do?!! Where can they go? Where can they go to the bathroom?

The city should try to solve this issue. The solution is to find these people an area where are allocated a 10 foot by 10 foot space for their tents. There should be restrooms, showers, a grooming area, a place to cook their food, entertainment such as free TV and free internet service. The tv and internet service will keep them in one area instead of flowing into everyones neighborhood. This area has to be monitered by security guards. The same should be done for homeless who only have vehicles to live in.

Where the city of Salinas is doing is illegal. The 9th Circuit Court has already ruled on this issue in Martin v. Boise. "September 2018 ruling that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives." What Salinas is doing is illegal!!! I don't believe that the assistant city attorney is correct when he says that Mrs Acosta's lawsuit is frivolous. Losing your place to sleep is not frivolous!! I think that the assistant city attorney is incorrect in saying that Mrs Acosta is disallowing Mr Corpuz's freedom of speech. In this case Mr Corpuz's is the person who is responsible for the ordering of the homeless. He is not part of the public, when he sues for an antislapp lawsuit. In fact Mrs Acosta should countersue this claim as an antislapp lawsuit against the city of Salinas, because the city is denying her day in court and the city in bringing this antislapp lawsuit as a way to deter Mrs Acosta's freedom of expreaaion by trying to by legally threatwn her. Not only should Mrs Acosta claim an antislapp lawsuit against the city but also ask the judge for sanctions against the city of Salinas and attorney of record for a frivolous lawsuit asking for court costs, attorney's fees and punitive damages for fraud!! Come on Salinas lets try my idea!

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