Sherman R. Frederick
The City of Novato will begin enforcing a new camping ordinance next week designed to clear the homeless out of Lee Gerner Park.
The city’s approach to homeless encampments, which is to prohibit camping within 50-feet of critical infrastructure, such as municipal buildings, creeks and other water sources, received a boost from the Los Angeles City Council when, in an abrupt shift, politicians there also voted to bar homeless people from camping near key public facilities.
In L.A. the council would bar the homeless from “lying and storing possessions” near “schools, parks, libraries and other ‘sensitive’ facilities.” The move is an attempt to restore access to its public spaces. The city also would bar tents and encampments from blocking sidewalks in ways that prevent wheelchair users from traveling on them, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the L.A. Times reported.
And in Sacramento the mayor there, Darrell Steinberk, said last week that they are implementing a plan to compel homeless people to accept shelter when beds are made available.
“Sometimes the pendulum swings too far,” said Steinberk. “There is no liberty in dying alone on the street.”
In San Jose, the FAA is putting pressure on the City of San Jose to take action and clear a homeless encampment on buffer property next to the airport. According to the FAA the homeless there are exposed to “unacceptable levels of noise.”
Scott Largent, a resident on the property, told ABC7 News there is nowhere else to go.
“They’re just gonna end up in the neighborhoods. They’re gonna end up near the County Building. They’re gonna end up downtown,” he said about his fellow tenters. “I mean, they’re already kind of at the end of the line out here. We’re living in a crash zone. So obviously, it’s, you know… it’s pretty difficult.”
Homeless leaders in Marin contend cities are going too far by enacting rules that criminalize being homeless. Jason Sarris, a leader who lives in the Lee Gerner Park encampment, says that if Novato doesn’t have a place for the homeless to go, then the homeless can camp out anywhere they please.
“Come Friday, July 9th, I am not moving my tent. I don’t care if I am within 50 feet of a critical infrastructure or if it is day or night. I am not moving,” Sarris said.
Asked why he wouldn’t move to the Marinship Park camp, which has toilets, organized help and showers, Sarris said he’s settled in at Lee Gerner Park and “I am running for County Supervisor district 5 Novato in 2022.”
Barring judicial intervention, everything will come to a head this week when the new camping ordinances hit the fan.
City Manager Adam McGill characterized the new laws as legal and one more way in which the city can “proactively address homelessness.”
The city, he said, wants “to help continue providing access to resources, services and housing to unsheltered community members while also protecting the environment and services essential for continuity of government and use of facilities by all persons not just those unhoused.”
The new laws do not prevent camping by the unhoused during nighttime hours on publicly owned land if it’s further than 50 feet from identified critical infrastructure and waterways, but it does prohibit day camping at all locations. Additionally, the ordinances do not allow the City to make people go into housing or a shelter environment, as such actions are voluntary.
“We continue to work with the county and other local partners on programs and initiatives to effectively and humanely address homelessness and improve the quality of life for all members of our community,” said McGill.
Meanwhile, in Sausalito the city there successfully organized it’s anywhere-goes homeless problem by clearing a homeless encampment at Dunphy Park and moving it to Marinship Park. Homeless leaders there were unhappy about the move, likening it to the internment camps used to imprison Japanese-Americans during WWII.
However, a federal court has sanctioned Sausalito’s approach. The city there has a right to control homeless encampments by designating a specific place — and one place only — for the homeless to sleep.
Half of Marinship Park has been fenced off for the homeless. There are restrooms and mobile shower access there. Sausalito Mayor Jill Hoffman said if, and when, Marinship Park becomes full, “we will adjust if necessary.” It is not full this week.
On a related matter, homeless advocate Robbie Powelson, was led away in handcuffs during a confrontation with Sausalito police officers last week. He had said on social media that he and others intended to resist.
But earlier criminal charges related to a houseboat anchored in Richardson Bay against Powelson were dismissed.
Marin County Superior Court Judge Roy Chernus said the District Attorney’s office screwed up on a technical issue when they filed charges against Powelson for resisting police and trespassing. Powelson’s attorney wrote to the judge that “The District Attorney isn’t entitled or empowered to prosecute the matter as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail because the RBRA code specifically deems such conduct as an infraction punishable by a fine. If the District Attorney is prosecuting this case partially as an obstruction of an alphabet agency’s authority then in all fairness they should follow that agencies’ own rules.”
The judge agreed. The Marin County District Attorney’s Office declined comment.