Sears Lane Residents Petition Court to Stop Eviction from Burlington Encampment | Off Message

Sears Lane Residents Petition Court to Stop Eviction from Burlington Encampment


A resident at Sears Lane - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • A resident at Sears Lane
Updated on October 21, 2021.

Residents of the Sears Lane encampment are asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the City of Burlington to stop a planned eviction there next week.

The one-page filing from Alexys Grundy and Grey Barreda says the city's October 14 eviction order does "not meet the criteria for emergency and exigent circumstances" and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

"We need this [injunction] because this 68 Sears Lane is our home and for most of us this is all we have," Grundy and Barreda wrote. "We need to have reliable, generative conversations and realistic time span expectations to start making the progressive changes both the City and the Camp want to see."

The residents filed the request in the Chittenden County Superior Court's Civil Division on October 18. Later that day, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced at a city council meeting that he would extend the move-out deadline from October 19 to October 26 at 5 p.m. City officials are expected to meet with residents later this week to discuss social services and assist with disposing trash.

The city has allowed the camp to operate on public land for years. In recent weeks, officials took steps to find a partner to manage the site, but nobody responded to a request for proposals. Two arrests there last week — one for drug trafficking and another for pointing a replica assault rifle at a city firefighter — convinced Weinberger that its existence has become "untenable and unacceptable."
Progressives on the Burlington City Council decried Weinberger's decision. At Monday night's council meeting, Councilor Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) attempted to introduce a resolution to halt the eviction, but Democrats and independent Councilor Mark Barlow (North District) blocked the move.

The Progs, and many people who spoke during the meeting's public forum, argued that it would be inhumane to displace vulnerable residents when COVID-19 case counts are at their highest since the pandemic's start and when cold temperatures are on the way.

Grundy and Barreda echo those concerns in their court filing, writing that such a "drastic upheaval" would "satisfy the requirements of [the] 'cruel and unusual punishment' clause in the 8th amendment" of the U.S. Constitution.

The filing also challenges the city's grounds for eviction. Notices posted around the site allege safety and health issues, including "the erection of multi-level unpermitted structures, and continuous or frequent running of generators."

Grundy and Barreda argue that the alleged criminal activity involved one person who has left the camp and that there are no multi-level structures there.

Regarding the noise from generators, the residents said campers have pooled their funds to purchase solar panels. They also mention sanitation concerns, writing that a dumpster "was only provided after years of negotiations when finally a member of the community independently rented one."

Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar didn't grant the request but instead issued an order Wednesday to set a hearing at which both parties can present evidence and arguments.

"The Complaint does not contain sufficient factual information," Hoar wrote. "Nevertheless, the matters alleged appear to have sufficient urgency to warrant a quick hearing."

The proceeding is scheduled for Thursday, October 28 ― two days after residents are supposed to move out.

In an email Wednesday evening, City Attorney Dan Richardson said that the city will respond to the complaint at next week's hearing.

"While I cannot comment on the substance of the pending litigation, I can state that the City disagrees with both the Plaintiffs' factual contentions and the legal analysis offered," he wrote.

The Sears Lane residents end their filing with a plea to the court. "This is where we are and have been building sanctuary and request that the court recognize the violation of our collective humanity," they wrote.

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