Legal Force

Thien Ho steps in where mayor, council fall short

By Jeff Harris
November 2023

In an unprecedented move, District Attorney Thien Ho filed a lawsuit against the city of Sacramento citing lack of enforcement of laws related to homeless campsites.

I welcome this action. The policies and actions of Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council have made Sacramento the most homeless-friendly city on the West Coast.

We are a place where homeless people believe they can live permanently on our streets. A place where individuals can pursue homeless lifestyles with impunity, ignoring laws, municipal codes and ordinances along the way.

Thanks to the leniency of city leaders, homeless people from around the country settle here. As a result, sections of the city are filthy, businesses fail and Downtown is a shambles.

In announcing his lawsuit, Ho said, “Why is the district attorney suing the city of Sacramento? To give a voice to people that feel that their cries for help have fallen on deaf ears.”

Clearly, citizens of Sacramento have reached a tipping point. Anger turns to despair as residents watch the city become decimated by camps. Public safety is a distant dream.

Steinberg called Ho’s lawsuit “performative.” He said, “The DA’s lawsuit will not clear a single sidewalk nor get a single person off the streets. We are working day and night to enforce our laws and provide relief to our community while avoiding the futile trap of just moving people endlessly from one block to the next.”

The mayor’s statement is not true. But it unintentionally explains the real problem: The mayor and council see cleaning up camps as a futile effort.

In truth, there is nothing futile about clearing homeless camps. Without enforcement of ordinances related to camping, tent communities become entrenched. Campers transform into a protected class outside the law’s reach. Drug abuse and crime grow rampant.

The City Council inadvertently exacerbated the homelessness situation by not understanding there must be a balance between compassion for unhoused people and addressing realities on the street.

That’s the balance Ho demands. He is willing to legally force the city to achieve it. He wants the city to enforce its own rules. Nothing more, nothing less.

As a councilmember in 2021, I started a cleanup of Commerce Circle. Some 160 camp vehicles were parked there for nearly two years.

The area was a public safety and environmental catastrophe. There were rapes, prostitution, a murder. Public right of ways were blocked by debris. Drug sales went on around the clock.

Constituents pleaded for relief from the harm created by campers. Some residents were threatened with violence. Fecal matter was strewn around the streets. Employees were afraid to go to work. Property values plummeted.

The city conducted outreach and offered services to campers. Our offers were mostly refused. Finally, with help from City Manager Howard Chan, the vehicles were tagged and two weeks later forced to leave.

Steinberg and City Council member Katie Valenzuela tried to stop my cleanup efforts on Commerce Circle and 29th Street. Thankfully, they failed.

The mayor introduced a resolution that would prevent moving homeless camp vehicles unless we had a designated relocation site. Thankfully, Steinberg’s resolution failed. It was a stinging defeat for him but gave constituents a glimmer of hope.

When I introduced the ordinance to prevent people from blocking sidewalks with tents, other objects and debris, Steinberg and Valenzuela tried to remove the misdemeanor penalty. They wanted to make the law unenforceable.

Thankfully, they failed. But they managed to add direction to city staff that campers should not be ticketed for blocking sidewalks. Apparently, Steinberg and Valenzuela believe laws should apply selectively to homeless people. Meaning not at all.

Today the mayor says he supports enforcement. He’s being hypocritical. You might say he’s being performative.

It’s no wonder thousands of residents feel their cries for help go unheard. The only elected representative who actively listens, it appears, is Thien Ho. Thank you, Mr. District Attorney, for forcing the city to do its job.

Jeff Harris represented District 3 on City Council from 2014 to 2022. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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