Federal Judge Blocks Fresno Ordinance Restricting Public Access to Encampment Sweeps

A federal district court has issued a ruling that blocks the City of Fresno from enforcing an ordinance that puts unconstitutional restrictions on reporters, advocates, and other members of the public documenting how city workers treat unhoused people during encampment sweeps.

“The court recognized that this law was unconstitutional from the start because it is vague, over broad, and threatens to sweep in significant free expression protected by the Constitution,” said Hannah Kieschnick, a staff attorney for the Democracy & Civic Engagement Program at the ACLU of Northern California.

In February, city leaders amended an existing ordinance to authorize buffer zones around abatement activity, such as encampment sweeps, taking place on public property. Anyone who enters the off-limits area “without express authorization” from the city could now be charged with a misdemeanor or fined up to $250.

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the California Homeless Union, represented by the Law Offices of Anthony D. Prince, filed a federal lawsuit in March, seeking to strike down the new law. The lawsuit is on behalf of Dez Martinez, a longtime advocate who was once unhoused, Robert McCloskey, a reporter and activist, the Fresno Homeless Union, and Faith in the Valley.

“When you know something is wrong, stand up and fight. Speak up, even if your voice cracks,” said Plaintiff Martinez. “I’m so happy because my street family members will continue to have support when they need it most and we’ll be able to bear witness to what the City is trying to do.”

In the ruling issued Tuesday, United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd said, “the amended ordinance and the arguments made in support of its application suggest that intention of the ordinance is in reality simply to avoid public scrutiny.”

The Fresno ordinance represents the intensifying war against unhoused people occurring all over California, which we documented in a recent report, “Outside the Law: The Legal War Against Unhoused People.”

This lawsuit is part of the ACLU’s larger work fighting to protect and defend the civil and human rights of people experiencing homelessness.