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Manteca walks legal, political tightrope
This homeless person photographed sleeping on a city sidewalk in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue on a recent Sunday at 11 a.m. cannot legally do so under city law. Had the council adopted a staff suggested change to a municipal ordinance, however, he would have been able to sleep there this time of year any day from 7 p.m. or so to about 7 a.m. based on proposed dusk to dawn language.

Manteca’s elected leaders on a one-by-one basis made it clear to city staff they don’t want anyone, homeless or not, to be able to sit, lie down, or sleep on city sidewalks from dusk to dawn.
Concerns voiced by council members independently of each other in advance of Tuesday’s City Council meeting prompted staff to yank a proposed ordinance change that had been promoted as a way to bring uniformity to park closures so the public and law enforcement would be clear on when municipal parks were off limits for use.
The proposed change was applied to parks in the ordinance and then further down in a section dealing with public places and sidewalks.
Currently some parks such as the Tidewater Bikeway are posted as being closed from dusk to dawn while most default to an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. closure under the ordinance that allows the council to adopt resolutions deviating from the seven-hour closure period in the ordinance.
The ordinance was originally amended after the settlement of a federal class action lawsuit brought by the city by three homeless men to allow sitting or lying on unsecured public property such as sidewalks from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The ordinance language regarding sidewalks and public places that aren’t secured by fencing or such or specifically banned from being used for such purposes is modeled after ordinances in other California cities where the municipal code has passed muster with legal challenges. It adheres to court rulings that the homeless have a right to sleep.
The proposed language change that was pulled from the agenda changed the provision governing the allowing of sitting and lying on sidewalks from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. to dusk until down.
Mayor Steve DeBrum said he did not want to see people sitting and lying on public sidewalks — basically the homeless sleeping  — for what could be as long as 14½ hours on the first day of winter.
Councilman Richard Silverman noted the definition of “dawn” and “dusk” is open to interpretation as exactly when both events occur on any given day.
While there are specific timetable published by the National Weather Service for sunrise and sunset the concept of dawn and dusk isn’t as precise.
DeBrum said he’d like to look at the impacts of people sitting, lying or sleeping at various public venues such as on the Manteca Library grounds overnight and see if it can be addressed. It isn’t unusual to see homeless huddled with their belongings outside the Manteca Library’s courtyard wrought iron fence along Center Street as early as 7 p.m. some evenings.
Manteca Police community resource officer Mike Kelly typically makes the rounds on the four days that he works waking up homeless that are on sidewalks or in public places.
Elected leaders as well as city officials and police are walking a tight rope requiring they adhere to court decisions regarding the rights of homeless including the fact the state of being homeless itself is not a crime and constituents pressing them on the homeless who are committing quality of life crimes. While some slam the council and city “for not doing anything about the homeless” implying they should be driven out of town, it is not a viable or legal course of action.
It’s been noted that when outlying homeless sleeping spots on state right-of-way and such have been cleared out, the homeless shift to sleeping spots in and around downtown, in Spreckels Business Park, and other locations within the city.
The city can’t legally ban anyone lying or sitting on all public property including sidewalks as it would essentially make it illegal to be homeless given the courts have said they have the right to sleep as much as anyone else.
The current seven hour window allows the homeless to sleep.
That said other laws — such as a three-foot wide passage on sidewalks for the handicapped as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act — essentially prevents the homeless or anyone else from sitting or lying on most sidewalks given the vast majority or residential sidewalks are four feet in width. The only wider public sidewalks can be found in commercial areas primarily downtown, along sections of North Main Street, along Yosemite Avenue between Cottage/Spreckels avenues and Pestana Avenue, near Union Square at Lathrop Road and Union Road, as well as in the area of the Union Road-Yosemite Avenue intersection.
The ordinance specifically makes it illegal to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia in the following areas:
The Manteca Transit Center at 220 Moffat Blvd.
The Moffat Community Center at 580 Moffat Blvd.
The city did not include all such unfenced public property outside of parks in order to comply with both court rulings and the federal settlement and not create a way for the city to be successfully sued.
As such homeless sleeping between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. as the ordinance now allows for sitting or lying on sidewalks and public places did not exclude the Manteca Library grounds, the Manteca Civic Center grounds, outside the Manteca Senior City or in areas that are city owned and aren’t fenced or other areas prohibited by law for such use as parking lots such as the storm retention basin on Moffat that has never been considered past of the city park system.
The homeless can’t legally sleep on private property sidewalks at commercial centers as they were doing last year at the Food-4-Less center if the property owner has a letter on file with the police department stating such use isn’t allowed and giving law enforcement the ability to remove persons who are sitting and lying on their sidewalks.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email