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Gavin Newsom joins chorus of opposition to San Francisco homeless sweeps ban

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a media event at San Quentin State Prison on March 17. | Jungho Kim for The Standard

California Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke out on Tuesday against a federal ruling that banned San Francisco from displacing homeless encampments without first offering the occupants shelter. 

Newsom took to Twitter to demand that courts be “held accountable” for blocking efforts to clear encampments. He praised tech mogul Elon Musk, who on Friday called for a boycott of global law firm Latham & Watkins, which has provided legal support to the homelessness nonprofit in the case. 

“On homelessness, [Elon Musk] has touched on a key issue,” Newsom tweeted. “California has made record investments — $15.3 bil[lion] … But federal courts block local efforts to clear street encampments — even when housing and services are offered.”

“Courts must be held accountable,” Newsom added. 

In response to a lawsuit filed by a nonprofit called the Coalition on Homelessness, which alleges San Francisco violated federal precedent by clearing homeless encampments without offering shelter, U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu issued a preliminary ruling in December that restricted the city from enforcing specific laws that prohibit sitting, lying or sleeping on public property. In an appeal, the city asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out the injunction. 

An attorney for the Coalition on Homelessness acknowledged at an Aug. 23 Ninth Circuit hearing that people who refuse genuine offers of shelter can’t be considered “involuntarily homeless” and are therefore outside of the scope of the injunction.

However, an apparent effort by both parties to enshrine that statement in the court record, paving the way for anti-camping enforcement against individuals who refuse shelter, hit a standstill Tuesday morning over disagreements on what defines a genuine offer of shelter and what constitutes a threat of enforcement. 

City officials have acknowledged there isn’t enough shelter for every person sleeping on the city’s streets but contend that the shortage shouldn’t restrict the city from enforcing laws against people who do have a place to stay. 

The injunction has inflamed debates over street homelessness in the city, with dueling rallies breaking out outside the Ninth Circuit courthouse last week. 

Zal Shroff, acting legal director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and an attorney representing the Coalition on Homelessness, said he was disappointed by Newsom's statement.

"We urge Gov. Newsom not to scapegoat his homeless constituents for San Francisco's failure to expand affordable housing," Shroff said.

David Sjostedt can be reached at