Op-ed: Open letter to Sheriff Smith regarding Santa Clara County evictions
The Japantown senior apartments, an affordable housing project in San Jose, is pictured in this file photo.

    For many Santa Clara County residents, the pain of the housing crisis is deeply felt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of stable income only accelerated the unfolding of a crisis and although the state acted to put in place an eviction moratorium, evictions in Santa Clara County continued to take place. Sheriff Laurie Smith and her department are largely responsible for the continued devastation that home evictions cause to families across the county.

    Why during a global pandemic that forced people to shelter in place, where a high number of evictions are happening in our county? Other counties like Alameda, San Francisco, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma had less than 65 evictions take place in the same time period.

    While the neighboring county sheriffs stopped conducting lockouts, Sheriff Laurie Smith decided to continue to enforce evictions. Many of the sheriffs in other counties made the decision to stop enforcing evictions while there was a shelter in place order. In total, 27 out of 58 California county sheriff departments had stopped enforcing lockouts. The Press Democrat, San Mateo Daily Journal and the Marin Independent Journal reported that in their respective counties the sheriff was public about pausing evictions.

    Considering that Santa Clara County’s sheriff did not take the same precautions, it resulted in Santa Clara County being #1 in eviction rates. From March 19 to Dec. 31, 2020, 145 evictions were documented in Santa Clara County.

    Aside from pausing lockouts, a majority of the other county courthouses across the state adopted a collaborative model in which landlords were forced to talk to their tenants and negotiate before initiating an eviction. The Santa Clara County Superior Court refused to adopt that model when it had the chance. This could have potentially helped influence the way the sheriff participates in enforcing evictions, but due to negligence this was not even considered important by the department.

    Early this spring, the Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee and the Survivors of the Street Committee asked Sheriff Smith for a meeting in order to demand the end of lockouts and eviction enforcement. Continuing an established pattern of lack of accountability, Smith did not follow up with our request for a meeting nor respond to our demands to end lockouts during the pandemic.

    At a moment when Sheriff Smith is facing public scrutiny for allegations of corruption, abusive practices in jails and pay-to-play schemes we understand that her deliberate decision to continue to enforce evictions further proves her inability to do right by this community.

    The people are done waiting for Sheriff Smith to change for better. We are now demanding she follow the lead of other Bay Area counties and to be held accountable for her negligence that put at risk the safety and health of our families and communities endangered by the traumatic threat of lockouts and evictions.

    The Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee and the Survivors of the Streets Committee are community-led organizing efforts seeking housing justice for all.

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