At its Tuesday night meeting, the Eureka City Council will return to the oft-delayed and rerun camping ordinance that City government has taken up and rejiggered several times over the past few months. (See here and here and here for previous episodes).
What’s the nut of the ordinance? Basically, the point of it is to restrict camping in high-profile areas of the city while at the same time threading the legal needle laid down by the Ninth Circuit in the Martin v. City of Boise decision, which held that it was impermissible for local jurisdictions to criminalize the act of sleeping.
What would the ordinance do, if passed? A couple of things. First of all, it would ban all camping in certain well-defined areas of the city: Downtown/OldTown, Henderson Center, the waterfront and the city’s “Northern Gateway.” (See maps and text definitions of these areas at the links.) It would also ban all camping within 75 feet of a public trail, or at the city golf course, or at city parks, including Sequoia Park.
It would also ban camping on any public property during the daytime, unless it’s raining, snowing or below 40 degrees. Unless the weather is bad, people will have to pack up their tents in the morning.
Why is this legal, in light of Boise? In the most recent city staff report, City Attorney Bob Black argues that this is perfectly within the Ninth Circuit’s guidelines. For one, staff say, the city isn’t proposing to criminalize camping everywhere in the city – there are still publicly owned parcels of land where camping (at night) will be legal.
Where are those spots? The city takes care not to define them, but it says they are definitely out there. The staff report says that:
City staff have supplied the information that over 900 acres of City, State, and Federal public property, not counting streets, sidewalks and buildings, remain outside the prohibited places of the ordinance.
One such property, it appears, would be none other than the property formerly known as “the Devil’s Playground” near the Waterfront Trail, which was the site of a large homeless encampment for years until the city conducted mass evictions there in May 2016. Whatever happens there going forward, it clearly won’t be Devil’s Playground II – the new rules against camping and leaving up tents during the daytime will be the same as in the rest of the city.
(UPDATE, 9:15 a.m.: Actually, not that much of the area of the old Devil’s Playground encampment will be campable, City Manager Miles Slattery tells the Outpost this morning — some of it is in the waterfront restricted area, and more of it is marsh.)
The draft ordinance makes clear that the city’s goal in these programs is not punitive. If passed as it is currently drafted, this will be written right into city code.
The law enforcement response to a violation of this Section should prioritize the City of Eureka’s restorative justice and diversion programs in preference to citations for infractions when offenders are willing and able to participate in those programs.
Elsewhere on Tuesday night’s agenda, perhaps not coincidentally: The council will receive a report from City Manager Miles Slattery on the city’s Community Safety Engagement Team, a multidisciplinary and multidepartmental task force that works with the city’s homeless population, attempting to steer chronically homeless people into services and shelter. (Our Freddy Brewster wrote a great profile on the CSET team’s work a couple of years ago. You can find it here.)
Also, the council will hear an update from Eddy Alexander, the Virginia-based marketing firm hired to promote the city in the summer of 2019.
The Eureka City Council meets virtually on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Full meeting agenda here. Instructions on how to view and participate below:
You can view the City Council meetings live on the City of Eureka’s website at www.ci.eureka.ca.gov or on Cable Channel 10. To view from the website, select the Watch City Council Meetings orange button from the home page. Members of the
Public who wish to speak and be heard during the Council meeting may submit their phone number and the name of the item that they would like to comment on by e-mail to email@example.com or leave a message at 707.441.4175. The City Clerk will call the public member during the discussion of the item or the public member may request the Zoom meeting link to log into the meeting for comment.