Berkeley parks

Caltrans cleared by appeals court to clear encampments near Berkeley

The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, is authorized to clean up homeless encampments along Interstate 80 near Berkeley without having to provide alternative housing, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The court case, which was originally filed in 2021 by plaintiff Where Do We Go Berkeley v Caltrans, followed the district court’s previous injunction based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which allowed residents to to stay.

“We are grateful for the decision that allows Caltrans to maintain the state’s highway infrastructure for traveler safety and to ensure that homeless people are not in unsafe and unsanitary encampments on rights-of-way,” said Caltrans spokeswoman Janis Mara said in an email.

Mara added that Caltrans will continue to work with the City of Berkeley, Alameda County and other local agencies to move homeless people to “housing and services.”

However, some community activists are concerned that the court ruling does not require Caltrans to provide housing solutions for displaced residents.

Ian Cordova Morales, president and lead attorney at Where Do We Go Berkeley, alleged that disability concerns were not considered in the ruling, describing it as “the primary constitutional issue”. He added that no alternative solution was offered for the security problems cited in the case.

“The idea was that we would ask Caltrans to let people stay there until people get into shelters with reasonable accommodations, which takes a bit of time,” Morales said. “We didn’t have the support of the city, the county (or) anyone.”

According to Morales, Where Do We Go Berkeley will help affected residents leave encampments to ensure their safety. He said most residents would go to the city of Berkeley, but could not stay in the parks and shelters.

Berkeley City Council District 7 candidate Aidan Hill also said he was worried about what would happen to residents after they were moved.

“A lot of people will be forced into shelters and will experience violence again,” Hill said. “People come to Berkeley for refuge…if you choose to press that button to evict someone just because they’re poor, you’re essentially choosing to no longer be responsible for (their) health and care.

Hill also pointed out that homeless people lack access to basic needs, including handwashing stations and basic health care.

Morales thinks the court should have asked Caltrans to take more responsibility for educating customers.

“It’s state land. They get millions of dollars from the state, so they should be asked to do more. said Moraux. “At the end of the day, a lot of the blame lies with the cities, because people wouldn’t be on Caltrans land if the cities didn’t push them there.”

Contact Aileen Wu at [email protected]and follow them on Twitter at @aileenwu_.