UC Hastings Law and Five Co-Plaintiffs Sue SF City and County over Conditions in the Tenderloin

PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Sybil Wyatt, Chief Communications Officer
wyattsybil@uchastings.edu, (510) 301-2223

UC Hastings Law and Five Tenderloin Co-Plaintiffs Sue City and County of San Francisco to End Dangerous and Illegal Conditions in the Tenderloin Neighborhood

  • Suit brought to protect the civil rights, health, and safety of Tenderloin residents and workers.
  • Suit filed in federal court cites 14 claims for relief, among them violations of Equal Protection, Due Process, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Public Nuisance.
  • Suit seeks to compel the City to clear sidewalks to allow unfettered safe passage for neighborhood residents and workers.
  • Suit further seeks to obligate the City to provide healthy and safe solutions for unhoused people who now use sidewalk encampments as their residence to the detriment of all in the Tenderloin, both housed and unhoused.
  • Suit contends plaintiffs’ constitutional rights are being violated by the City’s continuing tolerance of illegal and unsafe behaviors in the Tenderloin that the City government does not tolerate in more affluent neighborhoods.
  • Suit contends plaintiffs’ health and safety is being compromised by the City’s inadequate response to the public health emergency raging in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which response has made conformance with CDC and City social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates impossible.
  • Suit does not ask for monetary damages.

San Francisco, CA, May 4, 2020 – Six plaintiffs today filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against the City and County of San Francisco on 14 claims, including violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal justice under the law.

The lawsuit seeks to compel the City to clear the Tenderloin’s dangerously crowded sidewalks and to provide safe and sanitary shelter for the unhoused people who have been camping there in escalating numbers since the outbreak of COVID-19. The lawsuit was filed after many complaints from community groups and individuals to City officials failed to achieve visible results.

“The lives and liberty of all San Franciscans should matter equally under the law, but that’s not how the City and County of San Francisco acts when it comes to the Tenderloin,” said David L. Faigman, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings Law, lead plaintiff in the suit. “The health and freedom of our co-plaintiffs as well as our students, the neighborhood’s workforce including many front-line first responders, and all people in the Tenderloin are compromised by the City’s inadequate response to the public health emergency raging in our neighborhood. We are suing to achieve equal justice under law.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the number of tents on Tenderloin sidewalks has reached unprecedented levels. A year ago, tents on Tenderloin sidewalks were a relative rarity. According to the SF Clean Program of Urban Alchemy, which collects data for the City, the number of tents and other shelters on Tenderloin sidewalks increased from 173 on March 13, just before the shelter-in-place order, to 391 on May 1. Sidewalk encampments now block pedestrians, make social distancing impossible, and create dangerous and unsanitary conditions for everyone in the neighborhood including housed and unhoused residents. Many living in the Tenderloin, including seniors, children, and people with disabilities, are afraid to leave their homes or unable to move freely to conduct essential activities such as buying groceries or medicine. The economic viability of small businesses is being threatened beyond basic COVID-19 disruption because customers are avoiding establishments that present physical obstacles and health threats.

Chief of Police William “Bill” Scott stated in a City press conference on April 27 that crime was generally down throughout San Francisco due to the shelter-in-place order. The City has long treated the Tenderloin as a containment zone for activities that would not be tolerated elsewhere. Today, Tenderloin residents face historic levels of crime and squalor. According to a Compstat report from the San Francisco Police Department, year-to-date crime from 2019 to 2020 has skyrocketed. For the period ending March 31, 2020, homicide was up 50%, robberies were up 30%, aggravated assault was up 39% and burglaries were up 23% for the Tenderloin district.

“If what the City tolerates every day in the Tenderloin went on for one day in Pacific Heights, Bernal Heights, or Diamond Heights, to name just three other neighborhoods, the City would shut it down. That is the opposite of equal justice under law,” Faigman said.

Lead plaintiff UC Hastings Law is a public law school affiliated with the University of California but governed by its own Board of Directors. Co-plaintiffs are Fallon Victoria, manager of the single-room-occupancy Pierre Hotel at 540 Jones Street, which provides 86 units of permanent housing, many occupied by formerly homeless individuals; Rene Denis, part owner of Soluna Café at 272 McAllister Street; Randy Hughes, a wheelchair-using resident of the Cadillac Hotel at 380 Ellis Street; Kristen Villalobos, a resident of an apartment building on Golden Gate Avenue near the corner of Larkin Street; and the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association.

“Going in and out of my building is just horrific,” said co-plaintiff Randy Hughes, 65, who uses an electric wheelchair between his Ellis Street residence and Goodwill, where he works. “There’s people and stuff up and down the sidewalks. It’s a constant weaving in and out around the tents, the garbage, the feces, the needles, people sleeping on the sidewalk. And that’s everywhere, every block. There are just so many more people on the sidewalks now. I would say it’s 10 times worse than it was before.”

Co-plaintiff Fallon Victoria stated, “Even just going to the store, you run into massive amounts of people. You can’t even walk in the doors; massive amounts of drug use right on the sidewalks; the tents are literally taking over the whole sidewalks. I see elderly people with canes walking in the street, almost getting hit by cars because they can’t walk on the sidewalks. They’re having a hard time getting food right now and just moving around, period. Even walking down the street, it’s too crowded, they’re afraid.”

The lawsuit seeks urgent action by the City to reinstitute compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and pertinent state laws by removing encampments that have made sidewalks impassible throughout the neighborhood and enabling proper social distancing for all Tenderloin residents, many of whom have physical conditions that place them at high risk now and as the pandemic progresses through a likely multi-phase, multi-year health emergency.

“COVID-19 has pushed the Tenderloin over a tipping point, both in terms of the squalor permeating the streets and in residents’ and businesses’ tolerance for the City’s discriminatory conduct,” said Faigman. “We now call on the courts to provide a nonpolitical solution to achieve equal justice under the law.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger of San Francisco and Greenberg Gross LLP of Los Angeles.

About Hastings College of the Law (UC Hastings Law)

Founded in 1878, Hastings College of the Law (commonly known as UC Hastings Law) is the first law school established in California. It is affiliated with the University of California but governed independently by a Board of Directors whose members are appointed by the Governor of California and confirmed by the State Senate. It does not report to the UC system president or to the University of California’s Board of Regents. Its chief executive is Chancellor and Dean David L. Faigman.

UC Hastings Law has been located in San Francisco since its inception and in the City’s Tenderloin and Civic Center neighborhoods almost continuously for more than a century.


Read the full complaint: UC Hastings et al. v. CCSF Complaint FINAL, FILED 05.04.21