Following a surprise announcement from Mayor Blake Inscore at Monday’s meeting, Crescent City Council held off on approving three ordinances regarding camping, parking and leash laws inside city limits.
“After the agenda was posted Friday afternoon, we received notification regarding the ordinances that are on our agenda tonight and the question of their legality was posed,” Inscore said. “Because of that, we have made the determination that we will place these back to staff and legal counsel.”
Inscore said the move was made to ensure the ordinances align with the law.
Questions of legality came in the form of a six-page letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Northern California.
“The adoption of Ordinance Nos. 804, 805, 806, and 807 would threaten the constitutional and statutory rights of people who are unhoused and people with disabilities,” it begins.
The letter notes the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling police may not arrest or criminalize sleeping in public when the city cannot offer everyone shelter. The ACLU further noted Our Daily Bread Ministry cannot shelter the approximately 650 people in the city known to be without shelter.
“On any given night, hundreds of people have no choice but to sleep unsheltered,” it reads.
At the March 20 meeting, which lasted well past 10 p.m., Inscore asserted the ordinances were not targeting homeless persons but were about the appropriate use of public property. However, the ACLU letter pointed to particular potential impacts on the city’s homeless.
“We are deeply concerned that, if adopted, the proposed ordinances will result in widespread constitutional and statutory violations,” the letter reads. “The camping and parking prohibitions appear intended to make Crescent City’s unhoused population less visible and shielded from public view, and to place such harsh restrictions on where and when unhoused people are allowed to simply exist that remaining in Crescent City would become virtually impossible.”
Ordinances 804, 805, 806 and 807, refer to the city’s proposed camping ordinances, leash ordinances, recreational vehicle occupancy and RV parking, respectively.
“If the Ordinance were to be passed in its current form, it would give rise to a claim for injunctive relief and subject the City to protracted litigation and avoidable legal expense,” the ACLU letter reads.
The ACLU said the proposed requirement that persons not camp in public spaces between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., would require them to pack up all their belongings and carry them all day and evening.
“This requirement makes it difficult, if not impossible, for unhoused persons to engage in many of the most basic daily activities, such as holding down a job, attending school, or visiting a doctor or government office,” The ACLU letter states. “Even on nights when there are no shelter beds available, homeless persons are prohibited from doing anything other than “sleeping, sitting or lying down for rest.” They are prohibited, for example, from preparing meals, exercising, or even simply standing in place.”
The ACLU said the RV restrictions further narrow the option for unhoused people to exist in public places, even if they are fortunate enough to have an RV or other vehicle for shelter.
Council directed legal staff to return at a future meeting with more ideas for further discussion. Ordinance 807 was not on the agenda for consideration Monday, but was addressed in the ACLU letter.
“The bans on occupying, lodging in, or sleeping in one’s vehicle have no time limitation whatsoever: Ordinance Nos. 806 and 807 are round-the-clock prohibitions,” it reads. “Ordinance No. 807 has a permit provision, but this is only available for persons who can establish “that such occupancy or use is necessary or appropriate for the temporary lodging of personnel actively participating in a community event, festival or celebration open to the general public.
“While public safety and welfare are apparently not threatened by festival workers who can sleep in their cars, that ‘privilege’ is denied unhoused people.”
The letter said the city cannot have a legitimate interest in “casting such a vague and overbroad net of criminality over the act of sleeping in one’s own car,” which, it said, will unconstitutionally criminalize homelessness. The ACLU letter raised questions related to due process, citing case law from Los Angeles, and calling several of the proposed ordinance requirements too vague to follow.
It also asserted that the proposed ordinances, as written, could create risk of harm to unhoused people and their survival.
“These Ordinances will have the cruel effect of forcing more people to live outside, without any shelter at all, subject to the elements and the risk of harm to their wellbeing and personal safety,” it reads.
It also questioned the impact of proposed “round-the-clock” leash laws on disability rights, saying it made no mention of accommodations for service animals.
“We look forward to the City’s response and urge the Council to reject the adoption of these Ordinances,” the letter concludes.
The City released a response Tuesday afternoon, noting the items have been tabled for further discussion and will return to the council with recommendations from staff and legal counsel.
“While the City does not agree with the ACLU's overall assessment of the proposed ordinances, the City does believe it is in its best interest to review and evaluate each argument raised by the ACLU, and make any adjustments if deemed prudent or necessary, before taking final action,” it states.
By phone Monday, Inscore said some of the issues may be easy to solve, but others could be more difficult.
“I just feel we need to hit pause and investigate each of these,” he said. “If we are within our right, then so be it, but if we overlooked something, we need to address it so we don’t lock ourselves into litigation by not making sure.”
The City’s response was posted in full on Facebook.
Although not voted on, Inscore allowed public comment on any or all of the three proposed ordinances Monday, which preceded the release of the ACLU letter, Tuesday.
Karen Sander said she was in favor of all three ordinances, particularly the parking ordinance. She mentioned a bus in the city limits which she said moves every few days, sometimes near city parks where children are playing.
“We don’t know what’s going on inside that particular vehicle,” she said, adding that landowners have no means to deal with the bus. “I just think we need to give tools to the city police to be able to enforce things like this.”
Regarding camping, Sander said she works downtown in areas where it’s common.
“I have to lock my door a lot of times because of what’s going on,” she said. “Screaming, cursing, I hear it all. It is very bad for business, and that’s what we need. It’s what our downtown is all about.” Sander encouraged the council to pass the ordinances.
Under public comment, county resident John Evans spoke of the three ordinances, thanking the council for taking on such a divisive subject.
“At this time, I don’t feel that approving these ordinances would, in any way, affect the homeless population in a negative way.” He said the homeless community has resources available that will not go away. He said the ordinances would protect the rights of city and county residents, as well as the city’s image.
“It breaks my heart that we see this community and we’ve seen a gradual slide into disarray,” he said. “At times, it feels as if nothing is being done and nothing can be done, so I’m encouraging you to vote yes on these items.”
Evans encouraged the county to follow suit and advise people to move on, rather than set up permanent campsites in the city.
The council voted unanimously to table the ordinances for further consideration.