In a sharp reversal Tuesday, the city decided that it would not send a letter to Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas asking him to halt evictions, after concluding that the sheriff would be breaking the law if he complied with their request.
“It’s a little bit unfortunate,” said City Manager John Brown. “Sometimes we do things on the fly and don’t have the opportunity to take that extra few minutes to look into whether this is something we can actually do…It was a good idea, but not something we can follow through on.”
On Monday, the Petaluma City Council agreed to write a letter to Freitas asking him to halt all evictions on foreclosed homes during the holiday season, after members of Occupy Petaluma suggested it during the meeting. But they soon realized the Sheriff was not legally allowed to not evict people, per section 26.608 of the California government.
The law requires the sheriff to serve all legal process, including any type of court of orders, which evictions fall under, Brown said.
“When we started looking into this issue and whether this is something the sheriff could legally do, we realized it was not permissible under the law,” he said. “And it didn’t make sense to ask the sheriff to do something that he legally can’t do.”
Reached by phone, Sheriff Freitas said that he was legally bound to uphold a court order and would be committing a crime if he did not.
“I’ve taken an oath to uphold the law and I don’t pick and choose which ones I want to uphold,” Freitas said.
The reversal deals a blow to Occupy Petaluma activists who have made foreclosures one of their key points during nearly a month of “occupation” of Penry Park. A message left for the spokesman of the group was not immediately returned.
However, the city did pass a resolution Monday halting all foreclosures during the holidays, a symbolic move since they have no control over banks, and on Tuesday sent a letter to Edward De Marco, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency asking him to declare a national moratorium on foreclosures through January 2, 2012.
Meanwhile, Occupy Petaluma’s permit to stay in the park runs out today and city staff are evaluating whether to renew it.
“If all is in compliance with the intent of conditions, there would be some reissuance of a permit,” Brown said, adding that the city has had a cooperative working relationship with the group so far.
"They’ve made an effort to minimize their impact on the park and we’ve made an effort to make it easier for them to comply with the permit, Brown said. "We’d like to avoid the types of conflict you’ve seen in some other places and thus far, it seems to be holding.”
What do you think about the latest development? What else can the city do to help homeowners facing foreclosure?