Sacramento’s District Attorney Threatens Criminal Charges Over Cleaning Streets After California Rushes To Transform San Francisco for China’s Xi

A letter threatening criminal charges over the city’s self-governing homeless encampment is the latest salvo in a months-long feud between the district attorney and the city over homelessness in the California capital.

Hector Amezcua/the Sacramento Bee via AP
The Sacramento County district attorney, Thien Ho, holds a poster collage titled 'criminal behavior' as he announces that his office is suing the city of Sacramento for creating a public nuisance by failing to take stronger action on homeless camps, September 19, 2023. Hector Amezcua/the Sacramento Bee via AP

Sacramento’s district attorney is threatening criminal charges over the city’s self-governing homeless camp, less than a week after leaders of nearby San Francisco scrambled to clean up its streets for President Xi.

Despite being unable to rein in crime, open drug use, and homelessness at San Francisco for years, California rushed to clean it up and fly Chinese flags during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last week, as the Sun’s Dean Karayanis noted.

Yet, less than 100 miles away, Sacramento’s district attorney, Thien Ho, has had to resort to lawsuits and threats of criminal charges against the city for its failure to clean up the state’s capital. Sacramento’s inaction on cleaning up the rampant garbage, crime, and public nuisances associated with the campsite — despite many resident complaints — raises questions about whether California is only capable of cleaning up its cities when a foreign leader visits. 

In the latest salvo in a months-long feud between the district attorney and the city over its handling of the homeless population, Sacramento’s district attorney sent a letter to the city threatening criminal charges over “Camp Resolution,” a self-governing homeless encampment on city land. 

Mr. Ho’s letter is raising concerns that the city’s handling of the homeless, in addition to threatening residents, is harming homeless individuals because the camp is situated on a former vehicle maintenance yard.

“It is dangerous and deplorable to house the unsheltered on a toxic dumpsite where people are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals,” Mr. Ho wrote in a letter to the city’s attorney, Susana Alcaca Wood. “To do so is not only inhumane but raises questions regarding criminal liability.” 

Sacramento’s homelessness crisis is worse than San Francisco’s — 2022 point-in-time counts indicate that Sacramento has an estimated 9,278 homeless people while San Francisco has an estimated 7,754

As the Sun has reported, the city has approved two “safe grounds,” city-owned land equipped with trailers, tents, and other resources for homeless people. The city and a homeless advocacy group, Safe Ground Sacramento, came to a lease agreement earlier this year that allowed the campsite to be self-governed by an advisory committee of its own residents. 

The city’s homeless crisis has “spiraled out of control” under the leadership of the mayor, Darrell Steinberg, Mr. Ho says. The letter, which was also addressed to the executive director of Safe Ground Sacramento, Mark Merin, said the city was putting the homeless in danger by allowing them to live in “Camp Resolution.” Mr. Ho’s letter warns that “the city of Sacramento and its agents” and “its lessee, Safe Ground,” could face criminal liability.

Although he supports the idea of “safe ground” sites, Mr. Ho says the grounds of “Camp Resolution” expose homeless people to hazardous chemicals that can cause “cancer, birth defects, and other debilitating long term health conditions.”

“In a blatant disregard of the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that have made the Colfax site unfit for human inhabitance, Mayor Steinberg and the City decided that this area — Sacramento’s version of Camp LeJeune — should house the unsheltered,” Mr. Ho writes. 

There are tents sitting on the ground at Camp Resolution, and “people are still living directly on the dirt area where toxic chemicals contaminate the ground and air,” he says. “The City, its leaders, its attorney and the non-profit tasked with protecting our unhoused continue to ‘look the other way’ and shift blame.” The area is full of criminal activity, Mr. Ho adds, including vandalism, domestic violence, drugs, and theft. 

A representative of Safe Ground Sacramento was not immediately available to comment, but its director, Mr. Merin, told ABC’s Sacramento affiliate that Mr. Ho is “saber rattling” and not serving “any functions.” 

“What good does it do to say you can’t be here, you can’t be there, you can’t be anywhere?” Mr. Merin said.

Homeless advocates on the ground are expressing concern that the district attorney’s threats are not helping the homelessness crisis and are instead a political tactic. 

“The D.A.’s recent threats to pursue criminal charges against the city of Sacramento is a new low in his political grandstanding regarding the homeless crisis in our community,” the executive director of Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, Bob Erlenbusch, tells the Sun. 

“Rather than offering up constructive solutions, the D.A. is using our unhoused neighbors as pawns in his attempt to appear ‘tough on the homeless issue’ in pursuit of a higher office,” Mr. Erlenbusch says. 

Mr. Ho did not respond to a request by the Sun for comment. A representative of the city of Sacramento was not available for comment. 

The New York Sun

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