Sausalito camper can keep preferred tent, cats

A federal judge has ruled that two pet cats can live with a homeless resident in his personal tent at Sausalito’s camp in Marinship Park.

US District Judge Edward Chen said the city is not allowed to take down the tent, or evict or penalize the owner, Phil Deschamps, for keeping it up.

Chen, who issued the ruling on March 11, said there is no indication that Deschamps’ tent poses a health or safety hazard to others.

“Although there may be some room to debate whether Mr. Deschamps would suffer irreparable harm if he were not allowed to use his own tent … the city has not pressed this issue,” Chen said.

Deschamps previously built a living space on top of a city-provided platform and had a separate structure made of scaffolding and solar panels for the cats to live in. The city forced him to take the structures down and live in a city-provided, tan, REI tent like all of the other campers. Deschamps said the tent was not weather-proof or sturdy enough to keep his cats protected.

Deschamps purchased a tent for $300 and lives in it with his cats. He cordoned off a small area from the side of the tent to the tennis court fence with green mesh to allow for his cats to go in and out.

The small, cordoned off area might not be sanctioned by the temporary restraining order, which lasts until March 24. Deschamps argued that it is an extension of his tent and not an additional structure.

Chen set a settlement conference on the cat dispute before Magistrate Judge Robert Illman on March 21. Chen will hear a motion to issue a preliminary injunction against the city March 24 if there is no settlement.

Deschamps said he is the caretaker of the two felines, named Cat and Early. Deschamps said the cats are brothers and the only surviving members of a larger brood of tabby cats that died during the McFarlane Fire in Trinity County last summer.

Deschamps, a former boat dweller on Richardson Bay, said he has struggled to find a protected living situation with the cats because of city restrictions at the camp. He said his boat was recently destroyed.

“I just want my cats to be safe. I’m really not asking for that much. I’m just asking for my little area in the back to be accepted,” Deschamps said.

Deschamps argued in his lawsuit that the city was in violation of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by restricting his living situation. The lawsuit said the city must make accommodations for pets due to its emergency declaration over the camp in February.

The lawsuit further said the city was responsible for a “state-created danger” that might cause injury or death to the cats by not making accommodations to protect them.

Chen said the lawsuit also claimed cruel and unusual punishment, unlawful seizure of property and violation of substantive due process.

Chen noted in his order that many of the claims seem to be of “questionable merit” but there were “some viable claims.” He ordered that the amended complaint he served on the defendants and noted they had an opportunity to challenge the claims.

Chen said Deschamps would be granted time to move his additional property to his tent or under the platform. He is not allowed to add to the property and the city cannot dispose of what he has. Deschamps had argued he used an off-platform structure for solar panels to charge his phone.

Chen noted the city would provide a portable charging station for people at the encampment, Chen said.

Mayor Janelle Kellman said the city is complying with the temporary ruling.

“The health and safety of all residents are our highest priorities,” she said. “In the case of one resident who has cats, we are ensuring the area around his tent is kept safe and clear of clutter.”

Kellman said the city is maintaining a goal of helping the camp residents find housing as soon as possible. She said city officials are continuing to collaborate with the city and nonprofits to achieve that goal.

Deschamps said he used a fee waiver system to file the lawsuit at no cost, so far.

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