SAN JOSE — A federal district court judge on Monday rescinded a restraining order preventing the City of Santa Cruz from closing the now infamous Gateway Camp, a decision that will essentially allow the city to close the camp and move the residents.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said he is taking seriously threats of violence made on social media against city employees who come to help with the eviction Friday.
Among other things, the posts call for using Molotov cocktails and destroying park ranger vehicles.
“Acts of violence are unacceptable in a democratic society and I would hope that each of us in city leadership would state so clearly, forcefully and show unambiguous support for our employees,” Mills said in a letter to Santa Cruz City Council members “Our planning is in place and we shall move forward on our timetable.”
Standing in the camp late Tuesday afternoon, Shannon Vudmaska said she will likely go back to living in the wooded area around Pogonip, where she was before she came to Gateway Camp, which is also known as Ross Camp.
While she will miss the community she has found in Gateway, Vudmaska said she will not miss being “on display” to the passersby on the main road and the nearby shopping center.
Vudmaska said that campers are constantly harassed by passing motorists who throw frozen water bottles into the camp, and yell insults. Some, she said, have fired bottle rockets at the tents.
In addition, police walking through the camp have on several occasions opened her tent and looked inside.
All of this adds up to discrimination for people who are merely trying to survive, she said.
“We don’t judge people by their sexual orientation, or the color of their skin,” she said. “Why are we being judged based on our homelessness?”
City employees Tuesday morning posted eviction notices at the camp, located on the San Lorenzo River Levee near River Street, giving residents until Friday to leave.
Massachusetts native Daniel Joseph, 50, said he lived in the camp from the time it opened.
“It’s really not that bad,” he said. “This place is a community and people look out for each other. If you’re down a meal, people will kick in for you. We help each other out.”
Joseph said he hasn’t heard much talk around the camp about the place being closed down.
“I’m planning on heading out of here anyway,” he said. “First I’m heading to Florida, then back to Massachusetts.”
He said he had previously worked in construction and had a high school diploma.
“I’m just hoping for something better,” he said.
During the hearing on Friday and Monday, Santa Cruz officials were hoping to convince U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila to dissolve a restraining order that stopped the city from closing the camp while an underlying civil rights lawsuit moves forward.
In that lawsuit, Quintero vs. the City of Santa Cruz, a group of 10 people living at the camp is alleging several civil rights violations against the homeless community as the city seeks to close the camp.
At the heart of the plaintiffs’ allegations is that the city has no alternative place for the camp residents to go, and that “irreparable harm” would follow as the residents spread elsewhere into the city.
The Benchlands Camp in San Lorenzo Park is slated to close at the end of the week, Prince said, and the Salvation Army shelter at 1220 River Street is scheduled shut in two months.
In making his ruling, however, Davila stated that the plaintiffs did not prove their claims of irreparable harm, and that the city showed it has outlined several places where the displaced residents can go.
“The City is entitled to look out for all its residents, and there is inherent risk that comes with that responsibility," Davila said Friday.
The decision was the culmination of the two-day hearing, during which Davila twice ordered both sides into private mediation to see if they could reach an agreement without a court order.
Both sessions ended without a resolution.
Santa Cruz City Attorney Anthony Condotti said the ruling was “not unexpected.”
“The judge really went the extra mile to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to prove their case, an they couldn’t do it,” Condotti said. “We have gone above and beyond to provide alternative shelter locations for these individuals. I think the judge recognized that and decided the case in our favor.”
Anthony Prince, who was serving as counsel for the camp residents, said he “is inclined to file” an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“We’re disappointed in the court’s decision,” he said. “We move on, we’re in the ring, we’re not getting out of the ring.”
Prince said that he put on solid evidence throughout the two-day hearing.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to convince the court that there’s going to be harm to people,” he said.
Prince warned that the City of Santa Cruz needs to be “very careful as they move forward to take the camp down.”
“They promised and they said repeatedly in open court that they have alternative shelter for every single person who is going to be displaced from the camp,” he said. “We’ll see if that actually happens.”
During the hearing, Prince said that residents were safer at the camp than they would be if it were closed, citing a recent cleanup by residents.
“This camp can hardly be called a public nuisance, if it ever was a public nuisance,” he said.
Gateway camp resident Crystal Olsson, who is named as a plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit, said that she feels protected living there and fears being “sexually abused or worse” if forced to sleep elsewhere.
“Women are absolutely safe in the Ross Camp,” she said.
Olsson was one of nine witnesses Prince called to the stand during the hearing.
Santa Cruz City Councilman Drew Glover said that he has been to the camp several times, and that he saw none of the hazards outlined by city staff, such a propane tanks lying on their sides and faulty wiring.
“I believe there has been a concerted effort to make it inhabitable for the people who live there,” Glover said.
Photos posted online by the group Take Back Santa Cruz tell a different story, showing giant piles of garbage in places, and mud strewn with used hypodermic needles.
Santa Cruz Deputy City Attorney Reed Gallogly asked Glover if he had heard of a report that a woman was sexually and physically assaulted at the camp on Friday, to which Glover said no.
Those allegations are untrue, Vudmaska said, adding that the community is too protective to allow such a thing.
“The moment a woman’s voice is raised, she has 10 people around her tent, checking on her,” she said. “They have my back.”
Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills said the department is investigating the report.
Prince said that the plaintiffs will “aggressively pursue” the civil rights lawsuit, adding that they will broaden it to a larger scope of people experiencing homelessness in the city.
“People are being criminalized because they don’t have a stable place to live,” he said.