he City of Fresno conducted a “clean-up” operation in April 2022 at a homeless encampment in south Fresno. The City tried unsuccessfully to ban the media and homeless advocates from observing such operations. Photo by Eduardo Stanley

Federal Court Victory for the Unhoused 

On May 24, in a major victory for the unhoused community, advocates and the press, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd granted a preliminary injunction blocking the implementation of Fresno’s abatement ordinance. The claim for injunctive relief was filed by the ACLU on behalf of plaintiffs Fresno Homeless Union, advocate Dez Martinez, Faith in the Valley and myself.

The court order means that the City will not be allowed to restrict areas around abatement zones, including encampments and other areas on public property.

The unconstitutional ordinance was authored by City Council members Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez. The City might try again, but we plan to leverage this win as much as possible to get the City to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and abusing their power. The Court describes the draconian nature of the law:  

“The ordinance appears to grant the city and its private contractors the unfettered authority to establish an indeterminate barrier surrounding an encampment that completely severs the public from the unhoused community and their belongings, thus preventing the public and the press from being able to meaningfully observe defendant’s actions during a sweep.”

The Court ruled that the ordinance likely violates the First Amendment as an unreasonable “time, place and manner” restriction and likely violates substantive due process because it’s completely unclear how the ordinance will operate in practice. The Court also found two major faults with the ordinance: it does not advance a “substantial interest” and is not “narrowly tailored.” The Court stated:

“Although defendant now argues that the amended ordinance is intended to protect the public by fully clearing out abatement zones prior to a sweep and the asserted dangers accompanying those sweeps, both the language of the ordinance itself, as well as the reasoning presented by defendant, contradict this advanced interest. Instead, the amended ordinance and the arguments made in support of its application suggest that the intention of the ordinance is in reality simply to avoid public scrutiny.”

The Court also completely rejected the City’s argument that allowing it to cordon off areas will make its abatement work easier. As the Court observed, the City’s “interest in efficiency cannot outweigh the constitutional interests at stake.”

And as we’ve emphasized throughout this case, you and other members of the public have significant constitutional interests at stake here. As the Court emphasized, the City simply failed to explain “how the amended ordinance could go into effect without drastically infringing on both the plaintiffs’ and the general public’s First Amendment rights.”

This is an important victory that was successful because of the collaboration and hard work of the plaintiff organizations, the attorneys, the investigators and the unhoused community and supporters on the front line. Special congratulations to lead plaintiff advocate Dez Martinez, whose efforts led to this victory.

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