A City of Sacramento Poll recently found 71% say homelessness is the top issue facing the city. 57% of those polled say they have little to no confidence that the City can fix the problem. More than 60% think the problem can be solved with the right leadership and policies.
93% of Sacramento County residents polled say homelessness is nearly universally seen as a “very serious” problem, and think the County is on the wrong track in dealing with it.
That is a good start.
The Globe has written extensively about Sacramento’s perpetually growing homeless population for several years, despite Mayor Steinberg spending hundreds of millions of dollars on it. What was 5,000 homeless on Sacramento streets in 2020 has grown to more than 11,000, that we know of. The homeless count is taking place right now.
Region Business, a trade association for architects, contractors, engineers, banks, restaurants, law firms, developers, etc…, formed Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks, and co-drafted a ballot measure to address the rampant homelessness in the city, and to enforce local illegal camping laws, after years of ineffective leadership.
The ballot measure would give Sacramento citizens the ability to sue the City to force them to clean-up encampments that pose a nuisance to the surrounding community. It also requires the City to establish areas, adequate to accommodate 75% of the homeless population, where individuals can be moved.
Josh Wood, co-founder and CEO of Region Builders, spoke to the Globe about the importance to the entire community of the ballot measure. “We believe we are doing the maximum allowed under the ‘Boise’ case, and will force accountability of the city the same way they hold private property owners accountable.”
There is also legal recourse for reimbursement for legal fees associated with that effort, should it be required.
One member of the committee shared that the initiative is not without acknowledgement of the need for housing in the city and county. But it acknowledges that efforts to provide adequate housing will take years and in the meantime establishing a “state of emergency” of sorts is necessary to properly deal with this interim disaster that has occurred.
Demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the City, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg floated an alarming idea at his State of the City address this week: with so many state workers continuing to work remotely long-term, he’d like to utilize empty state offices for housing the city’s homeless.
And that is the primary problem with how Mayor Steinberg has addressed homelessness: as if it’s a housing problem, rather than a mental health and drug addiction problem. And, Steinberg has allowed homeless advocates to bully him.
The Mayor and City Council have largely hidden behind the Martin v. Boise case, in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider invalidation of ordinances completely banning sleeping and camping in Public. But Martin v. Boise did not render local officials impotent to deal with homelessness, as they would have you believe.
The crux of the issue is that Martin v. Boise will not apply in any situation where there is not complete prohibition on camping in any public place.
Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, explains the fallacies of the Ninth Circuit ruling in, “San Francisco, Hostage to the Homeless:”
“Boise v. Martin was a patent case of judicial activism in the pursuit of a favored policy agenda. The decision discounted facts that stood in the way of its desired conclusion. But the ruling’s most serious problem was the declaration that homelessness is an involuntary condition that the sufferer has no capacity to control or change. Numerous personal decisions go into being homeless, such as not moving to a cheaper housing market, refusing offered services, or breaking ties with friends or family members who might be able to provide accommodation. The concept of agency is already under assault in the legal academy; should more courts pick up on this trend, much of the criminal law would have to be discarded. A dissenting Ninth Circuit judge in a subsequent appeal of the case noted that if cities cannot ban sleeping in public, because sleeping is an inevitable concomitant of being human, they also cannot ban defecating in public. The majority chose not to respond to this logical inference.”
A key takeaway of the proposed Sacramento initiative is the illegal camping enforcement component. Here’s how the initiative addresses this:
“The streets and public areas within the city should be readily accessible and available to residents and the public at large. The use of these areas for camping purposes or storage of personal property interferes with the rights of others to use the areas for which they were intended. Such activity can constitute a public health and safety hazard which adversely impacts neighborhoods and commercial areas. Camping on private property without the consent of the owner, proper sanitary measures and for other than a minimal duration adversely affects private property rights as well as public health, safety, and welfare of the city. The purpose of this chapter is to maintain streets, parks and other public and private areas within the city in a clean, sanitary and accessible condition and to adequately protect the health, safety and public welfare of the community, while recognizing that, subject to reasonable conditions, camping and camp facilities associated with special events can be beneficial to the cultural and educational climate in the city. Nothing in this chapter is intended to interfere with otherwise lawful and ordinary uses of public or private property.”
“Large unauthorized encampments on public and private property create additional and more dangerous public health and safety concerns and threaten the livability, security and economic vitality of the city and can never be tolerated.”
“The city must enforce these laws while providing immediate emergency shelter and emergency camping spaces as an alternative to unauthorized camping.”
As for the Martin v. Boise restrictions, in a City of Oakland lawsuit brought by homeless advocates trying to block the city from evicting a homeless camp on city property, a federal judge ruled, “Martin does not establish a constitutional right to occupy public property indefinitely,” the East Bay Express reported.
With enough signatures, the Sacramento initiative will appear on the November 2022 ballot.
Here is part of the proposed initiative:
The people of the City of Sacramento do ordain as follows:
SECTION 1. STATEMENT OF FINDINGS AND DECLARATION OF PURPOSE
A. The most important issue facing our City is the massive increase in the number of people
living on our public streets and sidewalks, in abandoned vehicles, or in other public spaces,
which has occurred in just the last few years.
B. Numerous homeless encampments, many with dozens of people living in tents and other
make-shift shelters, are both a public health and public safety crisis affecting the homeless
individuals living in such encampments and all City residents.
C. In recent years, the public health crisis has included the spread of communicable and
dangerous disease caused by the contamination of our waterways and storm water systems, due
to the lack of basic sanitation.
D. The public safety crisis includes increases in retail and property theft, burglary, property
damage, and other drug-related crimes. In addition, these encampments have caused significant
damage to public and private property, including numerous and dangerous fires.
E. All of this has negatively impacted the livability, security, and economic vitality of the
city and of our neighborhoods. In some parts of the city, small businesses have been forced to
close because the city does not enforce its anti-camping ordinance. In other parts of the city,
citizens are unable to use public parks, community centers, and other public property. At times,
citizens have been warned to stay out of our rivers due to contamination. Garbage and hazardous
waste are piling up all over the City.
F. The City has spent tens of millions of dollars without any appreciable effect. Instead of
addressing the crisis as an emergent condition, the city has focused most of its efforts on long-
term costly and complicated housing solutions. At best, these long-term solutions are years
away. More importantly, the city has never explained why it has chosen NOT to enforce its own
laws that prohibit camping on public property.