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Q&A about camping in Manteca
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Now that the homeless have been locked out of the Manteca Library courtyard at night by a wrought iron fence put in place to stop the damage they were doing and trash they left behind including urine and human excrement, they are now camping overnight adjacent to the fence.
That was pointed out by several speakers at Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting demanding efforts be stepped up to address problems being caused by the homeless and vagrants.
And while they were sharing their concerns with the council, the homeless were again bedding down for the night along the fence on the Center street entrance to the library as well as across the street at Wilson Park behind Library Park.
Several speakers questioned whether the city was enforcing the long-standing camping ordinance that was amended in June of 2016.
It was amended to bring the ordinance in line with the most recent case law involving the homeless while recognizing specific community concerns relating to camping in the city.
The following Q&A explains questions about camping in general and why the council made the ordinance changes.
uQUESTION: Is this targeting the homeless?
uANSWER: No it is not. It is designed to apply to everyone regardless of their living arrangements.  It is illegal to target such an ordinance at only the homeless.
uQUESTION: Why were the changes needed?
uANSWER: A number of California cities such as Los Angeles have similar camping laws and have been involved in litigation. The ordinance changes are based on a review of those other cities’ ordinances and the results of litigation to make sure Manteca’s local laws reflect court rulings.
uQUESTION: The existing ordinance references that a person can sit or lie on public property between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. What is that all about?
uANSWER:  Essentially the courts have ruled everyone has the right to sleep. If they lack a place to do so or for whatever reason they wish regardless of their living quarters status anyone can sit or lie on public property as long as it doesn’t break other existing laws or create a safety hazard such as sleeping in the street.
uQUESTION: That means anyone can sit or lie on public sidewalks between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.?
uANSWER: Yes, as long as they don’t break other laws.
uQUESTION: So what if someone wants to sleep in front of the Manteca Bulletin in the doorway? Can they do so if it is between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.?
uANSWER: No. The camping ordinance that has been in place for a number of years prohibits camping on private property except for as noted in a residential area.
uQUESTION: So if someone is sleeping in the Bulletin doorway at any time do the police have to receive a complaint to enforce the law?
uANSWER: If an officer sees such a violation they can take steps to get the individual to move. Keep in mind, though, that officers have to follow a hierarchy in handling calls. Quality of life issues aren’t at the top of the list and are handled as manpower is available.
uQUESTION: So anyone can sleep on the public sidewalk in front of the Bulletin between 1 a.m. and 6 p.m.?
uANSWER: It depends if other laws are being broken. It may not apply in this specific case but the American with Disabilities Act requires a set minimum width for the handicapped to be able to navigate. That is why it is almost a given that people can not legally lie on public sidewalks in residential neighborhoods because they are narrower.
uQUESTION: When the ordinance says anyone can sit or lie on public property between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., does that mean they can sleep in parks?
uANSWER: That question needs to be taken in two parts. First, it is not illegal to sleep in a city park providing you can legally be there. Camping, however, is banned.
The second part of the answer is where other laws come into play. It is illegal to be in any city park between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition the City Council by minute order can call for parks to be closed earlier or operate different hours. The Tidewater Bikeway, for example is closed from sundown to sunrise. A sign at Wilson Park where the homeless were Tuesday night reflects a different city park closure law of 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The council in tweaking the ordinance also made it unlawful to “camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia” that includes but is not limited to bedrolls, tarpaulins, cots, beds, sleeping bags, hammock or cooking facilities and similar equipment at the Moffat Community Center at 580 Moffat Blvd. and the Manteca Transit Center at 220 Moffat Blvd. Those are the same rules that have been in place for years and apply to all private property and other public property except between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Courts have ruled the city can’t have a wholesale ban on “camping” on all public property that isn’t secured which is why the municipal code doesn’t list all city property such as the library in the ordiance.
uQUESTION: So you’re saying no one can “camp” in a vehicle in a parking lot such as at Wal-Mart or behind a downtown store or any place in the city for that matter?
uQUESTION: What about someone having friends or relatives camping in an RV in front of their house?
uANSWER: Rules have have been in effect for a number of years allowing the police chief to issue a permit to allow camping in a motor home or trailer on public property — essentially the street in front of the applicant’s house — as long as it doesn’t impact public healthy, safety and welfare, The permit is limited to five consecutive days, Once that permit expires they can apply again but no temporary camping permit can be issued to an applicant for a total period in excess of 10 days within any 90 day period.
uQUESTION: What is the special permit for camping the city manager can issue?
uANSWER: An example could be a church planning a revival and would like to have camping allowed for several days on the church grounds.
uQUESTION: The anti-camping posture was adapted years ago by a previous City Council because of the homeless?
uANSWER: Not exactly. In the past the big community concern has been people having friends or relatives park RVs and other camping vehicles in front of their homes sometimes for weeks at a time. About 10 years ago there were numerus workshops conducted after neighbors frustrated with the on-street camping in terms of changing the character of their neighborhoods as well as creating visual safety issues due to sight lines
uQUESTION: So this isn’t an ordinance targeting homeless?
uANSWER: Again, it is not. The rules apply to everyone — period.