SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A federal judge in San Francisco has turned down a request by the city of Berkeley for dismissal of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of homeless people.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said two members of the group called First They Came for the Homeless could pursue claims that the city violated their due process and free speech rights during evictions from municipal land.

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Alsup, in a ruling issued on Friday, dismissed some additional claims against the city and also dismissed BART as a defendant.

The group, which has an estimated 20 to 30 members, camped on land owned by BART on the west side of BART tracks near the Oakland border for about 10 months beginning in January 2017. The homeless residents left the site in early November, following BART’s posting of notices to vacate the property in late October.

The group members claim that before that, Berkeley police moved them from 12 different locations on city land between October 2016 and early January 2017 and seized and threw away property they could not carry or left behind.

Alsup dismissed BART as a defendant because plaintiffs are no longer camping on BART property and that area is now fenced off.
But, he said that Clark Sullivan and Adam Bredenberg, who joined the group before January 2017, can proceed with their claims that Berkeley unconstitutionally seized their property during the earlier evictions, failed to give them adequate notice and retaliated for their comments criticizing Berkeley’s response to the homelessness crisis.

Alsup said three other individual plaintiffs did not join the group until after January 2017 and therefore could not sue over the city’s
actions before then.

EmilyRose Johns, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they will ask Alsup to certify the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all members of
First They Came for the Homeless or possibly a larger group of homeless Berkeley residents.

“We’re pleased the judge is allowing the case to go forward,” Johns said.

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Group members are now living in three different locations on city land, she said.

City of Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko said, “The city’s motion to dismiss was based solely on the plaintiffs’ allegations, and no evidence was presented to the court.

“The city is confident that once the facts are presented, it will prevail on plaintiffs’ remaining claims regarding unlawful seizure of
property and First Amendment retaliation,” Chakko said.

The next hearing in the case is a case management conference before Alsup on Feb. 8. No date for a trial has been set.

The lawsuit was originally filed on Oct. 23 as a handwritten complaint against BART by three encampment residents acting as their own lawyers. Three days later, a group of five residents, now represented by lawyers, filed an amended complaint that added Berkeley as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges Berkeley “has consistently failed to provide enough shelter beds for its homeless population.” It cites a 2017 study that said two-thirds of about 1,000 homeless people lacked shelter beds.

The city has said that helping homeless people get housed is a priority and that it devotes “significant resources to help address, on a
local level, what is a regional, statewide and national issue.”

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