The council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Rotunda, just yards from where a few dozen homeless people and their advocates have been holding nightly sleep-ins for the last several months.
According to a city staff memo to the council, that has resulted in numerous complaints from city employees and others who say they have been intimidated or harassed by the campers and offended by the defecation and urination that occurs in the bushes and elsewhere when toilet facilities aren’t available. The proposed ordinance would make it illegal to camp, loiter, defecate or urinate on most public property in the city and a fair amount of private property.
While a handful of cities have addressed the same issues issue by creating additional shelter space, most have responded by criminalizing homelessness, using citations and various police powers to break up encampments when they become too large to ignore.
Santa Cruz has been a magnet for transients for decades because of its youth culture, good weather and seemingly open attitudes and it has found itself erecting a series of legalistic and administrative barriers to keep the complaints down. Santa Cruz police told the City Council that the department issued 1,913 camping citations last year, with about 3 percent of those involving sleeping in a vehicle. Police Chief Kevin Vogel said 96 percent of the citations went unpaid. A news account on his report to the council didn’t say whether the issuance of those citations had any impact on the underlying issues.
A memo to the Salinas City Council from Michael Mutalipassi, senior deputy city attorney, says violations of the ordinance would be criminal misdemeanors.
“A purpose of the proposed ordinance,” he wrote, “is to maintain public and private lands, streets, sidewalks, alleys, ways, creeks, waterways, parks, playgrounds, recreation areas, plazas, open spaces, lots, parcels and other public and private areas within the city, in a clean, sanitary and accessible condition. A further purpose of this proposed ordinance is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. To that end, the proposed ordinance makes it unlawful to camp, establish, maintain, operate or occupy camping facilities, or use camp paraphernalia on public or private property subject to some exception.”
He continued, “It has been reported by city employees, as well as members of the public at large, that overnight camping has specifically interfered with their use of public buildings, public sidewalks, public streets, parking lots, parking garages, and other open spaces, most notably the public space surrounding the John Steinbeck Library and the public space in front of City Hall. City employees leaving City Hall have been confronted by overnight campers screaming, yelling, and displaying other aggressive and erratic behavior that has made those employees fear for their safety upon ingress or egress to or from the building. City employees have also been confronted by overnight campers subjecting them to unwanted sexual comments.”
Mutalipassi wrote in some detail that there have been numerous complaints about the smell.
“The ordinance creates a prohibition on public urination and defecation except when using a urinal, toilet, or commode located in a bathroom, restroom, or other structure specifically designated for the purpose of urination and defecation.
“In addition to establishing a prohibition on camping,” he went on, “the ordinance will prohibit certain conduct in public areas or areas associated with business establishments or public buildings. The ordinance shall make it unlawful to loiter in a manner as to prevent the free passage of the public on any public street or sidewalk. It shall also make it unlawful to loiter at the entrance or exit of any business establishment or public building if that action obstructs or hinders the free passage of the public. The ordinance makes it unlawful to walk, stand, sit, or lie on any monument, vase, decorative fountain, drinking fountain, bike rack, trash receptacle, median, fire hydrant, street-tree planter, berm, utility cabinet, railing, fence, planter, or upon any other public property not designed or customarily used for such purposes. The ordinance further makes it unlawful to take any action, in public, to abuse or mutilate any tree, plant, or lawn.”
To read the ordinance, go here and click on the link for the agenda. From there, you can link to the ordinance.