Sacramento’s Anti-Camping Ordinance Debunked
By Paula Lomazzi
.
There are over 1,200 people who find that it is illegal for them to live because they must live outdoors. Well, legally they could probably sleep if they didn’t use a blanket or sleeping bag to keep themselves warm, and didn’t use a tarp or tent to protect them from the rain.
.
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee first formed in 1987 in response to the City of Sacramento’s adoption of a new anti-camping ordinance. In response, SHOC organized protests and eventually participated in a legal challenge to that ordinance, which was then struck down as unconstitutional by the appellate court. The City followed up by enacting a new anti-camping ordinance that took into consideration when shelters were full.
.
Today we have another incarnation of that anti-camping ordinance, that provides no moratorium when the shelters are full. And the shelters are always full with long waiting lists. Title 12 deals with camping under Chapter 12.52
.
Under Section 12.52.020, some of the terms used in the ordinance are defined, such as: “Camp” means to place, pitch or occupy camp facilities; to live temporarily in a camp facility or outdoors; to use camp paraphernalia.”; “Camp facilities” include, but are not limited to, tents, huts, vehicles, vehicle camping outfits or temporary shelter.”; “Camp paraphernalia” includes, but is not limited to, bedrolls, tarpaulins, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammocks or cooking facilities and similar equipment.” So “camping” basically entails living outdoors. But it also can be defined as using camp paraphernalia. What? Paraphernalia? Paraphernalia is defined as your usual conception of camping equipment, but “is not limited to”. I knew of a fellow that got a camping citation many years ago for setting his backpack on a park table. The backpack fell under that “not limited to” category.
.
The meat of the ordinance, 12.52.030, makes the following a misdemeanor offense, “It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas: A. Any public property; or B. Any private property.” Trying to sound like it’s not really infringing on constitutional property rights (which the constitution is strong on) it states, “1. It is not intended by this section to prohibit overnight camping on private residential property by friends or family of the property owner, so long as the owner consents and the overnight camping is limited to not more than one consecutive night.”
It goes on in #2 to further talk the reader into believing that they aren’t trying to mess with property owner’s rights, and in #3 says that the city manager can issue a permit in relation to a special event.
.
Similarly, the ordinance makes it against the law under 12.52.040 for the “Storage of personal property on public and private property”. It states, “It is unlawful and a public nuisance for any person to store personal property, including camp paraphernalia, in the following areas, except as otherwise provided by resolution of the city council: A. Any public property; or B. Any private property without the written consent of the owner.” The rest of the ordinance talks about special event permits, and the city manager and other technicalities. But wait! Let’s go back. What did it say? That you can’t store personal property on private property without the written consent of the owner? Now if I wanted to store my bicycle in my daughters garage would I need to carry around her written consent or else I can be in violation of the camping ordinance, a misdemeanor offense? I hope no one is planning on enforcing that anytime soon. It recently cost Sacramento $408,000 to enforce park curfew against a few dozen Occupy Sacramentans--can you imagine the City trying to ensure that everyone storing property on other people’s property have written permission? And can you image the reams of paper required for all those permission slips? Similarly disturbing is the wording “any public property” which in actuality forbids homeless people or people that just went shopping at a sporting goods store from setting any of their camping equipment on the ground, if public property. Wait a second there. Anyone with any kind of personal property is hereby forbidden from setting down anything on the ground or on any public property.
.
Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee continues to work around this inhumane ordinance, taking incident reports, referring “offenders” of the ordinance to attorneys or other legal avenues, protesting formally and informally, etc.. Several years ago we were even involved in a lawsuit against the City and County of Sacramento to try to overturn the camping ordinance through the courts, in conjunction with projection of people’s property that had been taken while they were homeless by law enforcement. The court threw out the part of the lawsuit that tried to address the ordinance itself, but allowed the property protection portion to continue, which resulted in a win for the homeless plaintiffs. As I said, the constitution is big on property rights.
.
Though this ordinance on its face is cruel and uncaring toward those without property or the income to pay rent to a property owner, would things be much different if it were overturned? Would the City just come up with another ordinance? Or would they just use the similarly cruel and uncaring anti-lodging State Law 647j to try to eliminate homeless people from their site? It is the real motives and intent behind the ordinance, not the stated motives, and the real people that support this legislation, that needs to be changed—HEARTS AND MINDS.
.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a legal analysis and is actually more an opinion piece by a very discouraged homeless advocate.