Criminalizing homelessness is NOT a solution!

Ordinance passed to remove homeless property

Check out the full story on thecalifornian.com: http://t.co/KaERXXuX6k

Amid protest by members of the public and by the some of the homeless themselves, Salinas City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night that will allow the city to remove property of homeless people.

City Attorney Chris Callihan submitted the ordinance proposal and in it, wrote that the “collection and storage of both personal property and bulky items, as well as the erection of tents, at various locations throughout the city has created unsanitary and unsafe conditions.”

The ordinance, titled “Restricting Bulky Items and Personal Property on City Property,” sets forth a process to remove things like tents, furniture, shopping carts and more from city property. In the process, a notice can be posted 24 hours before the removal and then the property owner can claim the property within 90 days.

It prohibits obstruction of walking and vehicle traffic on city property, placement of bulky items on city property, and tents being placed on city property.It is noted that bulky items, like mattresses and shopping carts, are not considered personal property and can be immediately removed and discarded.

Violations would be a misdemeanor that could be prosecuted criminally or administratively.

The sensitive topic drew a large impassioned crowd to the Council meeting with more than 25 people, including Councilman Jose Castañeda, holding signs reading “Homelessness is not a crime” and more to protest the ordinance outside the City Hall Rotunda before the meeting.

Many of the protesters were homeless people who live in Chinatown, where hundreds of homeless people are living in a sprawl of tents and haphazard structures.

The protesters filled the room for the meeting, and when the agenda item came up for public comment, nearly 30 people came to the podium to voice their opinion.

In presenting the topic for the second time since first introduced Sept. 15, Callihan underscored that the ordinance would address a citywide issue in of homeless property in areas such as Natividad Creek Park, Sherwood Park and the Sanborn Road overpass, not just in Chinatown.

Stating that its purpose was to protect public health, safety and welfare for all residents, he said the ordinance would help address issues of people sleeping on creek beds when El Niño flooding is expected this winter and help clear streets where fire engines may have to respond to in an emergency.

He also defended the legality of the ordinance, saying it’s modeled on similar laws in other cities like Los Angeles and consistent with current law.

However, Castañeda called for the city council to table or reject the ordinance that he says would unconstitutionally criminalize the status of being homeless.

Housing and civil rights attorney Anthony Prince, who has represented Castañeda in other legal matters, also called for the Monterey County legal community to seek an immediate court injunction for the ordinance, which he described in a news release as “fraudulent, lacking due process and out of step with the views of the United States Department of Justice.”

In a brief on the topic presented to council, Prince further argued that property owners must be given a chance to argue against the taking of property.

At times calling into question the morality of the issue, many asked where 1,700 homeless people would go if their tents and items were taken away.

Mayor Joe Gunter argued that allowing people to live in squalor also does not meet the moral obligation of the city, which is to provide a safe community.

Callihan added that there is going to be ongoing conversation with the homeless and service providers as the ordinance goes into effect and the city continues to try to identify housing projects, including one already projected to be in Chinatown.

Several members of the public questioned the thousands of dollars that the city invested into the Forbes AgTech Summit earlier this year when they believe those funds should have gone toward issues like homelessness in the city. City Manager Ray Corpuz brought up that the city has committed $1.46 million to various endeavors mean to alleviate the issue.

Callihan also added that the city’s obligation is toward health and safety of the entire community and not just some.

However many homeless advocates, including Rita Acosta, said that the city should instead consider a managed homeless camp.

Members of the Salinas Downtown Community Board, such as Marilyn Dorman, said that she strongly opposed adopting the ordinance as written and instead wanted clarification of how it would be applied and other issues.

At one point, a young boy who said he was homeless began to cry as he described the stress the ordinance would cause and pleaded for a second chance. Others brought up Salinas’ own John Steinbeck and his advocacy for the “common man.”

Jill Allen, development director for Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra, which runs Dorothy’s Kitchen, said she was concerned about homeless service providers’ ability to assist the chronically homeless if they are “being pushed out of Chinatown” and advocated for seeking alternatives.

City officials said that several items of concern regarding the ordinance were already addressed with the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers while drafting the ordinance, and there will be ongoing discussions with the Coalition on how best to implement it.

Salinas Assistant Public Work Director Don Reynolds has said some of the history of the ordinance began earlier this year when a complaint to the city was submitted about people camping in the alley behind the Buddhist Temple and about 30 bags of human waste reportedly dumped into a minister’s backyard in the area.

As city staff talked about the issue, it began to look at a process already used in San Jose and Seattle for removing personal property.

Two town hall meetings were held by California State University, Monterey Bay students who work in the area to get feedback from residents, Reynolds has said, and there were also meetings with homeless service providers.

Before the vote Tuesday, several council members spoke about the sensitivity of the issue, the need for compassion, and their concerns for health and safety. Councilman Tony Barrera revealed that he was homeless himself for several months and lived at Victory Mission.

Though he said it was a difficult decision for him, Barrera said he was concerned about what would happen if someone lost their life in the existing conditions of the homeless in the city.

Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa said she used to be a service provider in Chinatown and also knows many of the homeless there. She advocated for county officials to be more proactive on providing assessments and referrals of homeless and said that while the community needs to work together on the homeless issue, she represents other citizens such as families she’s trying to encourage to walk in the parks now affected by homeless camps.

In the end, the ordinance passed with only Castañeda dissenting.Now approved, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days, and then a request for proposals will go out to contractors to do the removal.