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Sacramento DA might sue city over homelessness inaction

The DA has not yet acted on his legal threat, but the ball is now back in his court after receiving the city attorney's response.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho said he would take legal action if the city doesn’t kick its homeless encampment enforcement into high gear within 30 days. Now that the deadline has passed, what’s happening?

The city's attorney, Susana Alcala Wood, responded to Ho's letter a month after it was sent and outlined the work the city is doing and the ways the District Attorney's Office could do more.

“The city is well represented by its legal office and efforts to undermine its effectiveness by making spurious comments to the media serve only to throw blame around rather than actually partner with my office to solve the issues our community demands of us,” she wrote. “I invite your office to collaborate with mine to address the enforcement efforts you have highlighted in your letter and to take ownership of those efforts that are the responsibility of the county.”

Now that Ho has had this letter for more than a week, ABC10 asked whether he plans on moving forward with legal action against the city or if Alcala Wood’s letter has changed anything.

In a statement Friday, DA Ho told ABC10, “We are currently evaluating the merits of the city’s response to our proposals to deal with the unhoused crisis affecting the entire city. A final decision on future litigation is forthcoming but will only be made after a thorough analysis of the facts, the law and a review of the city’s efforts, or lack thereof, to effectuate meaningful change.” 

The tension between the city and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office is far from resolved. The DA has not yet acted on his legal threat, but the ball is now back in his court after receiving Alcala Wood’s response.

“I do not relish the possibility of suing another government entity in order to compel them to do the right thing,” Ho told ABC10 in an interview Aug. 9. He said he could charge city officials with “failing to abate a nuisance” by what he said would amount to their not enforcing the city’s various ordinances on unlawful encampments.

Ho said Sacramentans are fed up with rampant homelessness, citing a survey his office conducted that got more than 1,600 responses in a matter of days. People shared stories like hypodermic needles on a girls soccer field and human waste on the sidewalks kids use to get to school.

Ho’s demands included that the city must prosecute city codes related to unlawful encampments and provide four additional attorneys to do s,; clear 16 encampments listed in his survey and ensure people don’t relocate within three blocks, audit the money spent on homelessness within the last two years and more within 30 days.

"People have asked, 'is this an empty threat?' And the answer is no," Ho said in August.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg pushed back, calling Ho’s demands unrealistic.

“You are going about this all wrong," he said in a news conference responding to Ho’s letter. "We are all frustrated, but some of us are actually working day and night to try to make the problem better."

City spokesperson Tim Swanson says the city has been working on homelessness solutions efforts.

“Last week, among other sites, teams were deployed to Alhambra Boulevard, where more than 5400 pounds of garbage were removed and 303 needles,” said Swanson. “On Wednesday, a team from [the Department of Community Response], Hope Cooperative and Sacramento’s Homeless Engagement and Response Team provided outreach to unsheltered residents on Broadway near the Highway 99 underpass. Two individuals accepted offers to go to Miller Park, where they will be connected to services to help them establish a stable path to more permanent housing and health care needs. Teams this week also were deployed to 30th and C streets.”

ABC10 asked for an update on the identification and launching of new Safe Ground sites. In August, city councilmembers voted to give City Manager Howard Chan more authority to find and start these sites, as an expedited temporary housing solution.

“City staff have been working urgently and diligently to identify additional Safe Ground sites,” said Swanson. “We will be sharing more information on this as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, he said, the newly announced Incident Management Team – the city’s new coordinated approach to homelessness solutions – “is fully operational, and the City is deploying teams daily to provide outreach, engagement, cleanup, and enforcement,” said Swanson.

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