Eureka residents sue Humboldt County for relocation help amid jail expansion plans on 4th Street

'I have no place to go,' one resident says

The 1000 block of 4th Street includes several residences and Raliberto’s Taco Shop. (Ruth Schneider — The Times-Standard)
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Humboldt County’s plans to acquire a block of Fourth Street in downtown Eureka for the county’s upcoming jail expansion has prompted a lawsuit from a group of residents who will be displaced from their homes by the purchase.

The residents are calling on the county to assist in their relocation to new homes after the property is fully purchased. Found on the 1000 block of Fourth street, the buildings contain multiple residences, as well as Raliberto’s Taco Shop, a Mexican restaurant.

“I have no place to go. My landlord told me I would have to move one day because of thecounty’s plan for the buildings, but no one ever told me about relocation assistance,” saidCassandra Gonder, one of the property’s residents, in a Legal Services of Northern California news release.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the $900,000 purchase earlier this year, preparing for an expansion of the county jail that would require a larger parking lot in place of the property.

But on Tuesday, the board put off the purchase to a later date, with a staff report citing “issues relating to the tenants and occupants residing at these real properties.”

“This is not a typical property acquisition,” said county spokesperson Sean Quincey. “There are real people and their homes involved. We’re sensitive to that and aware of that.”

The county’s deferral of the purchase comes after the residents temporarily blocked their own evictions by filing suit, according to Legal Sources of Northern California.

Along with their local counsel, the residents will receive assistance from the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which takes up civil matters throughout the state. The lawsuit refers to the California Relocation Assistance Act, which states “no person shall be displaced until the public entity has fulfilled the obligations” of the act.

Western Center attorney Matt Warren called the situation “shocking.”

“The county’s been completely neglecting their obligation to provide relocation benefits to the existing residents,” Warren told the Times-Standard. “They’ve gone out of their way in the purchasing agreement to make sure the property is delivered to them free of any existing tenants.”

Quincey said the county will work with the tenants to ensure “they have what they need to keep a roof over their heads.”

“Housing is an important issue for everyone in the community, including the people living at this property,” Quincey said. “We don’t want to see anyone left out in the cold.”

The purchase will come from $6 million set aside by the county for capital improvement projects. When finished, the jail expansion will accompany a larger Humboldt County campus established in the heart of downtown Eureka.

In addition to the county, the lawsuit names the Board of Supervisors, the property owner and the property management company, Warren said.

“We’re really looking forward to working with the county to make sure their obligations are upheld,” Warren said, “and that the tenants have a safe place to call home for now and the future.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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