Judge lifts restraining order; county now allowed to begin clearing homeless camps along Joe Rodota Trail

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Northern California late Friday lifted the restraining order he had granted on Monday.|

A federal judge has vacated a five-day-old restraining order that prohibited Sonoma County officials from clearing two homeless camps along Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa.

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the U.S. District Court for Northern California lifted the order Friday evening, noting that the seven individuals who requested it are no longer camping on the trail.

“In short, Plaintiffs are no longer residing in the encampment and have alternative shelter for at least the next 30 days,” Gilliam wrote. “In light of this development, the Court cannot find that Plaintiffs would suffer any harm if Defendants continued with their plans to clear the encampment.”

Gilliam’s decision to lift the order, which he issued Monday, means the county can move ahead with its plans to clear the trail.

There were about six people left camping on the trail by Roseland Avenue, according to a count taken Friday morning, said county Communications Manager Paul Gullixson. The county had placed more than 60 people in shelters since July 21, Joshua Myers, chief deputy county counsel, wrote in the county’s response filed in court Friday.

County officials are expected to meet over the weekend to determine what the next steps will be, Gullixson said. That includes determining whether the county needs to re-notify those still camping on the trail about an impending sweep, Gullixson said.

“For those that are left, we’re looking at what we need to do,” Gullixson said.

Seven people camping on the trail requested the order, saying the county had not provided adequate shelter options ahead of a sweep, which was planned for July 26.

County employees on Monday offered those camping on the trail options for hotel vouchers or stays in FEMA-run trailers by the Sonoma County Fairgrounds or at Sam Jones, the congregate living shelter unpopular with many unhoused residents. Some were also offered spots at Los Guilicos Village, a transitional housing site with capacity for 60 people that is managed by nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul.

The plaintiffs contend that before Monday, the county had not offered hotel or trailer placement options.

The hotels and trailers are available for 30 days. Sam Jones is available for up to six months, county officials said.

The county’s placement of over 60 people followed an internal scramble when officials closed the trail near the encampments two weeks earlier, citing safety concerns. At the time, officials said there was not enough space at shelters to house the people camped on the trail.

“I’m really proud of all of the plaintiffs for what they accomplished, if they hadn’t filed the TRO they would not have gotten the placements they did get,” said Michael Titone, a Santa Rosa resident who served as a witness for the seven individuals and helped them file their complaint.

The seven people who requested the original order are among those who accepted placements.

The plaintiffs could not be immediately reached for comment.

Titone noted that there are still three issues at play for the plaintiffs: the county needs to do more to help people when their 30-day stays are up; residents at the trailers face uncertainty due to mandatory background checks; and people at one hotel were moved to a different hotel because the first hotel did not want them staying there.

Gullixson said the county had no comment on the background checks.

Denise McCloud, one of the plaintiffs, detailed those concerns in a response filed in court Friday.

“We would like the court to further protect us by not dissolving the TRO until it is proven that serious steps have been taken to enable us to remain housed for a minimum of 6 months such as that offered at the Sam Jones congregate shelter,” McCloud wrote.

Gilliam set a hearing for Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. to discuss the plaintiff’s concerns about the 30-day stay.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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