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Manteca bans all homeless encampments
A homeless woman searches for recyclables along a south Manteca road. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca is making it illegal for the homeless to sleep in any makeshift shelter on public or private property within the city limits.

A new law banning homeless encampments as well as putting in place a local ordinance against public urination and defecation that city leaders expect to be easier to enforce than state laws on the same subject was adopted for a second and final time Tuesday by the City Council. That means both new laws will go into effect on Dec. 4.

The unanimous vote came despite pleas from two Manteca residents — Planning Commission member Leonard Smith and Sharon Herrera who is retired from a job where she helped relocate dislocated individuals from single room residential hotels when Stockton closed them in downtown — to delay approval in the aftermath of last week’s homeless summit.

Both argued it would be premature to put ordinances in place until a viable solution to homeless concerns was devised.

Smith said the city’s new law coupled with existing ordinances would make it near impossible for the homeless to sleep in Manteca. He also said the city’s decision to temporarily close the Library Park restrooms has also taken away the only place most homeless could go to the bathroom without doing it in a public place or on private property.

Herrera cautioned against final adoption indicating the city may be opening itself up for lawsuits. A similar thing happened in Stockton when advocacy groups with the means to sue felt that city had taken actions that specifically targeted the homeless that could not past muster in a court challenge. She said Stockton ended up spending more than $1 million in legal fees and settlements with individuals the court determined had been injured.

One ordinance will make it unlawful to construct or occupy homeless encampments on any street, in any park, in and publically owned or maintained parking lot or parcel and on all private property. 

The ordinance defines transient shelter paraphernalia as tarps, canvas, cardboard, corrugated tin or other materials, cots, beds, mattresses, hammocks, non-city designated cooking facilities, and sanitary facilities for storage or disposal of human waste such as portable potty units. 

The ordinance is designed to prevent the following:

• Safety hazards to persons and property from open flame fires without property containment much like the one that destroyed a vacant home last summer on Union Road while imperiling seven other nearby homes.

• Obstruction or impediments in public right of ways.

• Negative environmental impacts and health concerns regarding the improper disposal of solid waste, detergents and fuels plus air pollution caused by improper open fires.

• Public health impacts by the open urination and defecating on public and private properties.

• Negative impacts on public property by interfering with its intended uses.

The ordinance will allow police to move quicker to have such encampments torn down and disposed of by city crews when they appear on private property without first being invited to do so by the property owner who now have to make a trespassing complaint first.

It is designed to address vacant lot and other remote locations.

And since both are municipal ordinances, they would be prosecuted by the city attorney and not the district attorney’s office that has a backlog of more pressing and violent crimes.