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State could sue SF, other cities over homelessness under new plan

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Governor’s task force wants to amend the constitution to put cities in the hot seat over crisis

The California Supreme Court building, a long white building with a taller addition lined with blue windows above it.
The California Supreme Court.
Photo via Shutterstock

Cities like San Francisco would have to drastically reduce homelessness or face legal sanction from the state under an aggressive plan proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s homelessness council, which goes so far as to suggest amending California’s constitution to get it done.

The Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, created by the governor in 2019 to find new solutions to the statewide crisis, released a brief (14 page) interim report Monday laying out its initial findings.

California “can no longer accept tens of thousands of fellow Californians living in the most unsafe and unhealthy manner” says the preliminary report, pushing for the state to create strict legal standards to combat the problem.

The report’s key recommendation is to amend the California constitution to create a mandate for cities to shelter the homeless or face legal sanction from the state attorney general’s office.

The council wants to put that amendment before voters in the pending November 2020 election. Such a measure would first require approval by two-thirds of both the State Assembly and Senate.

Per Monday’s report:

Within one year of establishing the mandate, the responsible governments would be required to develop an enforceable plan to house the vast majority of their homeless populations [...] based on the jurisdiction’s last Point-In-Time Count

[...] One year after enactment, designated public officials as identified by the legislation would have the authority to file a public right of action requesting the Superior Court in any non-compliant jurisdiction to either appropriate existing resources, consolidate resources with neighboring jurisdictions, override any siting restrictions, and/or effectuate any actions that would move the jurisdiction toward compliance.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, head of the council, said Monday that the accountability standard was “the piece that we grappled with the most” when creating the plan but that it’s necessary to deal with the scope of the problem.

Steinberg previously proposed the idea of city mandates last year, but employed a different standard, based on New York City’s “right to shelter” laws.

Newsom formed the council with Steinberg at the fore last summer, selecting 13 individuals—including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the only representative from the Bay Area—to “examine best practices” and make policy recommendations.

The recommendations came the same day that the governor began a tour of the state to meet with various people who receive homeless services in California, starting in Grass Valley.

If the legislature approved the amendment plan, it would only take a simple majority of voters to ratify it in the November 3 election. Newsom has not yet commented on whether he supports the recommendation.