Unhoused Sacramento residents could face misdemeanor charges or fines for camping on sidewalks, along the American River Parkway or places deemed critical infrastructure under new ordinances passed Tuesday by Sacramento County and city elected officials.
The City Council voted to increase the penalty for blocking Sacramento sidewalks or building entrances from an infraction to a misdemeanor.
The revised ordinance outlines a process for the city to order people to move and offer them a place to store their belongings, but there are exceptions. The city can remove people and items without notice or offering alternatives if there is an immediate threat to public health or safety.
Otherwise, the law gives the city authority to remove encampments after giving owners 8-hour notice and offering a storage place. If the city can’t locate the owner, the city can move the items and store them at the person’s expense.
The ordinance also says the city should first offer people blocking building entrances a different location to stand, sit or lie. But the ordinance doesn’t specify any requirements for an alternate location.
Supporters say the law should help clear sidewalks to let others pass, but opponents say it further criminalizes people who can’t afford housing.
Jameson Parker of the Midtown Association was among the business leaders who spoke in favor of the changes. Like others, Parker called the ordinance a tool to manage sidewalks while the city works on coordinating more homeless services.
“It’s paramount that residents, employees and visitors have the ability to safely navigate our streets and businesses can operate without the challenges of accessing their front doors,” Parker said.
The city has roughly 1,100 shelter spaces, all of which are typically full on any given night. About 9,300 unhoused people live in Sacramento County, according to the 2022 Homeless Point in Time Count.
Jeff Tardaguila, co-chair of the Point in Time Count committee, said the city should have detailed how it will store people’s belongings. He agreed the city needs to clear sidewalks, including for disabled people, but said the ordinance isn’t an effective tool.
“What you’re doing here is just another form of sweeps until you have the resources put in place to manage them,” Tardaguila said during the meeting.
The Department of Community Response and police would carry out the ordinance, city staff said. City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said if police issue citations for violating the ordinance, her office would review them and make recommendations to the court.
Wood added she would not suggest jail times or fines because compliance is the goal. However, the ordinance does give the city authority to issue fines of up to $25,000 per day.
The council also passed a resolution directing staff to avoid fining or booking unhoused people into jail for blocking sidewalks. Mayor Darrell Steinberg proposed the direction and Council member Jeff Harris, who wrote the new ordinance, accepted it.
Council members Katie Valenzuela and Jay Schenirer supported the ordinance, despite expressing concerns when the Law and Legislation Committee passed it in June. After pushback from the two, city staff added the 8-hour notice and storage steps before presenting the ordinance Tuesday.
“It’s not going to fix the problem, but it’s gonna help,” Schenirer said Tuesday. “Speaking as someone who has a number of sidewalks that have disappeared under encampments, it’s a dangerous situation waiting for bad things to happen in many of those places. So, I hope we can use this in a humane way.”
Sacramento’s sidewalk ordinance changes follow a local trend of more aggressive enforcement proposals against unhoused residents.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday also approved laws to ban camping along the American River and Dry Creek parkways, as well as in unincorporated areas near schools and libraries. Although those laws go into effect in late September, county officials have said they won’t be widely enforced anytime soon, because the county doesn’t have enough park rangers, sheriff’s deputies or available shelter space.
Earlier this month the City Council approved technical changes to a ballot measure that could ban homeless encampments on public property. Homeless advocates sued to try to remove the measure from the November ballot. A hearing for the case is scheduled for Wednesday.
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