By Corinne Murdock |
On Monday, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the city of Phoenix is at fault for the homeless crisis, most evident in the massive encampment downtown known as “The Zone.”
Judge Scott Blaney ruled that city officials had done nothing to improve The Zone, declaring it a public nuisance. Rather, Blaney declared that the city had created and maintained The Zone. Blaney added that the actions undertaken by the city, allegedly to address the homeless crisis, had served only to grow its bureaucracy and throw money into government and nonprofit programs that haven’t yielded any discernible results.
“With few exceptions, the action items about which city representatives testified centered around the creation of more bureaucracy, additional staff positions, and obtaining additional funding for programs to vaguely address homelessness in general,” stated Blaney. “The Court received very little evidence — if any — that the City intends to take immediate, meaningful action to protect its constituent business owners, their employees, and residents from the lawlessness and chaos in the Zone.”
Blaney ordered the city to abate The Zone by permanently removing the encampments in public rights of way; cleaning up the biohazardous materials including human feces and urine, drug paraphernalia, and other trash; and removing individuals committing offenses against the public order. Effectively, the judge ordered the city to enforce existing laws.
The city has until July 10 to achieve material results toward compliance with the court’s ruling.
In the 23-page ruling, Blaney agreed with arguments posed by the plaintiffs, made up of residents and business owners in The Zone: that the city stopped enforcing laws within The Zone, resulting in increased violent crime, property crime, prostitution, public indecency, public drug use, a blocks-long biohazard, fire hazards, and environmental destruction.
Notably, Blaney agreed that the owners of Maker Kitchens had the right to install the dinosaur statues on the right of way adjacent to its building to discourage the homeless from re-establishing their encampments after the city did a cleanup to do gas line work. Blaney ruled that the city had arbitrarily enforced its laws so as to ignore violations by the homeless on that land and yet demand removal of the statues.
Blaney ruled that the city couldn’t force the restaurant to remove the dinosaur statues until it cleaned up The Zone or the court issued a further order.
Blaney ruled that the city had “abused its discretion through the arbitrary application of the law and provision of taxpayer funded security in The Zone.” He also ruled that the residents and business owners who filed the lawsuit had a strong possibility of receiving damages on the basis of irreparable injury, should the city not provide relief by mitigating The Zone.
Blaney agreed that city leaders erroneously applied the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in Martin v. City of Boise, which determined that municipalities couldn’t enforce public camping laws against the homeless when no adequate temporary shelter options existed.
The judge further noted that the city had wholly ignored the residents’ and business owners’ proposals to resolve the homeless crisis, an outdoor shelter space, presented in January 2020 — just before the crisis “really got out of hand.” However, the city ignored all proposed plans to mitigate the crisis until one month before the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, last October. That’s when the city approved the construction of a “sprung structure” containing 200 additional shelter beds.
Yet, Blaney stated that the city’s proposed shelter options were either designed as temporary, being seasonal, or as speciality situations, being intended for domestic violence survivors or COVID-19 response.
At one point in his ruling, Blaney surmised that violent, organized crime had taken root in The Zone. AZ Free News reported that gangs run The Zone, assaulting and charging encampment space rent to the homeless.
“The evidence also strongly suggests that the City created and maintained the dire situation that currently exists in The Zone through its failure, and in some cases refusal, to enforce criminal and quality of life laws in The Zone,” said Blaney. “The City’s refusal to meaningfully enforce statutes and ordinances in The Zone has created a classic ‘siren song’ to certain individuals that are enticed at their peril by The Zone’s drugs, sex, and lack of societal rules.”
The court’s ruling comes days after the city promised it would arrange some kind of meeting on the issue at some point following back-to-back murders in The Zone.