City to ban camping; fines suspended

At the City Council meeting on the evening of Monday, Feb. 13, the council passed the ban on camping in public places that had been the source of controversy since the current council took its seats at the turn of the year.

The vote, unsurprisingly, was 3-2. Mayor Albert Vera and Council Members Dan O’Brien and Göran Eriksson were the three “yes” votes, while Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and Council Member Freddy Puza voted against.

Prior to that vote, city staff provided an update on the state of emergency regarding homelessness. The homelessness count had taken place during the week prior and, while staff was not able to disclose the numbers until they are finalized, they did say that the numbers had gone down in all categories (individuals, cars, campers, RVs, tents and makeshift shelters). 

Meanwhile, Project Homekey – the renovation of hotels to provide homes for people experiencing homelessness – is due to open in July. While there have been delays due to unforeseen issues with termites damage, the roofing, the power supply and more, that will be just one year after receipt of funds from the county.

Action Item 1 called for “Adoption of an ordinance prohibiting camping in public places throughout the city; and direction to the city manager as deemed appropriate.”

Public comments before the vote were split fair evenly, with many people in full support of the ordinance, and others angry at what they feel is “criminalizing the most vulnerable.” 

McMorrin and Puza reiterated the arguments they have had against the ordinance from the beginning, with Puza pushing to replace it with a “care first” approach. But his efforts were to no avail and the vote passed 3-2.

O’Brien introduced a motion that all citations, including fines and other punishments, for failing to abide by the camping ban, would be suspended until otherwise directed by the council.

People experiencing homelessness, O’Brien argued, would be unable to pay a fine and he has no interest in jailing them, so there’s no point putting useless laws on the books. That also passed 3-2, with the same members voting for and against.