Structures in jeopardy | Photo: Ryan Burns

Note: Back in July we reported that the County of Humboldt was planning to buy a block of property on Fourth Street in Eureka, near the county jail, and tear down the block’s homes and taco shop in order to build a parking lot. 

Those plans have been delayed. At this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, there was an item on the consent calendar noting that acquisition of the Fourth Street properties was being deferred due to “issues relating to the tenants and occupants residing at these real properties.”

We reached out to the county for more information. Spokesman Sean Quincey responded to our inquiry via email, saying, “The negotiations around this property remain ongoing. That’s really all I can say. I don’t want to jeopardize that process by commenting publicly on the substance of those discussions. It’ll be deferred until negotiations are completed.”

That’s confusing, we said in response, since the negotiations are presumably with the property owners. Why did the staff report say the issues related to the “tenants and occupants”?

The following joint Legal Services of Northern California/Western Center on Law & Poverty press release, sent to local media this afternoon, seems to offer an explanation:

Three current Fourth Street residents filed suit on November 25, 2019 to enforce the legal requirement that the County provide relocation assistance when displacing people for a public project. The residents were successful at temporarily blocking their evictions while the lawsuit under the California Relocation Assistance Act moves forward. The residents, one of whom is a disabled senior, all received termination notices after Humboldt County entered into negotiations to purchase the property from the current owner.

“I have no place to go. My landlord told me I would have to move one day because of the County’s plan for the buildings, but no one ever told me about relocation assistance,” said Cassandra Gonder, who was set to be locked out on November 27, 2019. “I don’t think it’s fair for the County to put me out on the street so its employees can have a place to park. They should at least help me find somewhere to go first.”

The property is subject to a purchase agreement with the County that requires the current owners to deliver it vacant. The residents say that since the County is purchasing the property as part of its jail expansion project, it is obligated to provide relocation assistance.

The California Relocation Assistance Act (“CRAA”) requires public entities such as the County to plan for and assist with the relocation of residents who are displaced as a result of County activities. The CRAA states that no person shall be displaced until the public entity has fulfilled the obligations of the CRAA.

“The California Relocation Assistance Act specifically says that no displacement should occur until a relocation plan has been approved and implemented,” said Legal Services of Northern California attorney Gregory M. Holtz. “The County hasn’t come up with its plan yet, but the residents have been asked to move out, and many already have. That’s the exact outcome the CRAA seeks to prevent.”

Among other provisions, the CRAA requires that residents receive (a) fair and reasonable relocation payments; (b) requisite relocation assistance notices; (c) relocation advisory assistance through a relocation assistance program; and (d) a determination that comparable replacement dwellings affordable to the residents will be available within a reasonable time prior to displacement. “Humboldt County’s decision to evict low-income tenants over the holidays in order to lay a parking lot, in the midst of a statewide housing crisis, is unconscionable,” said Western Center attorney Matt Warren. “Counties need not only to be more thoughtful toward their residents, they also need to be held accountable for not following the law.”
The residents demand that the County meet its obligations under the CRAA.

The residents are represented by Gregory M. Holtz, S. Lynn Martinez, and Sarah J. Steinheimer of Legal Services of Northern California, and by Matt Warren and Richard A. Rothschild of Western Center on Law & Poverty.