A judge Friday ordered the evictions of two families living in overcrowded apartments in Santa Ana, a decision that tenant activists say could trigger more such evictions in the city's Latino community.
Municipal Judge C. Robert Jameson rejected defense arguments that the evictions ordered by the landlord were discriminatory and in retaliation for the families' involvement in a rent strike since May. Jameson said it was the court's "reasonable interpretation" that the two families violated the city's occupancy standards, which is three people per one-bedroom unit.
Both families, one with four members and the other with five, live in one-bedroom units in the Highland Avenue Apartments in Santa Ana.
Jameson granted a stay of the evictions until Jan. 13, to await a Superior Court ruling on a suit brought by three Highland Avenue Apartments families. Their suit seeks an injunction of the city's enforcement of the occupancy rule.
"(The judges') interpretation could literally mean the displacement of thousands of people," said Nativo Lopez, an organizer of striking renters, upon hearing of the Municipal Court ruling. He called Jameson's eviction order a form of "racism because they're targeting immigrant families and the ruling would affect Latinos."
Terence Calder, attorney for apartment owner Joseph DeCarlo, said Jameson's decision was the only alternative because of the city's crackdown on landlords who allow overcrowding.
Calder said the contention that Friday's ruling could affect thousands of Santa Ana residents who live in overcrowded units was "overdramatizing it a little bit." However, Calder said, "I don't know what the real overall effects are. Yes, there are grossly overpopulated places that are going to be cleaned out (by the city)."
Richard Spix, the attorney representing the two evicted families, criticized Jameson's ruling, saying that about 90% of Santa Ana's low-income families could be affected. Spix also claimed that the city had only named one of the families as violators of the city's code, yet he said both families were evicted.
"The judge is accepting the city's word as gospel," Spix said. In court, Spix also claimed that in one apartment unit, a non-striking family had bunk beds in the living room but was allowed to remain.
George Gragg, a supervisor in the city's housing code enforcement program, said earlier that enforcement of the city's occupancy standard was "not a new policy." Gragg said such enforcement has been carried on "continuously for at least three years."