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Proposed ordinances address sidewalk obstruction, camping in public spaces
homeless ordinances
A proposed new ordinance would make obstructing downtown Turlock sidewalks illegal (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

The Turlock City Council was presented two new proposed ordinances aimed at addressing the impacts of homeless individuals on the community and downtown business district.

The first enhances the City’s unlawful camping ordinance by adding prohibitions on unlawful camping near locations where children congregate — daycare centers, schools and playgrounds. The second prohibits obstruction of commercial sidewalks during certain specified times that would interfere with extended business hours. The second ordinance is aimed at the downtown business district that has limited parking and relies heavily on sidewalk traffic being able to access the businesses.

“Both of these are the result of public meetings held on homelessness the City Manager facilitated on (Sept. 22 and Oct. 4, 2022). We had many, many citizens express a desire for the City to pay more attention to issues of what I’ll call quality of life impacts of unsheltered homeless and the issue we have here,” said City Attorney George Petrulakis to the City Council at their Feb. 14 meeting.

There was some question brought up if the City would be able to enforce laws aimed at homeless individuals.

Even with the new ordinances, local municipalities still have to abide by the largely federal case law that governs this area that lays out many factors a community would have to follow in order to actually enforce their ordinances regarding homelessness, said Petrulakis.

The attorney went on to say that the defined geographical and time frame of the obstructing sidewalks and camping ordinances makes them “more enforceable than blanket prohibitions.”

The current Municipal Code provisions prohibit unlawful camping on public property. The proposed ordinance would prohibit unlawful camping within 600 feet of where children congregate. Camping includes pitching tents, huts or other temporary shelters or using camp paraphernalia. The enforcement of this ordinance would include an administrative citation for those found violating the terms.

The proposed sidewalk obstruction ordinance would include all sidewalks within the downtown business district as defined in the zoning regulations. It would prohibit any person from sitting or lying or obstructing a commercial sidewalk between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, with exceptions including medical emergency, use of a mobility device, business conducted on the sidewalk with a City permit, a special event permitted by the City, a child in a stroller and those waiting for public transportation. The enforcement of this ordinance would include an administrative citation for those found violating the terms.

Council member Cassandra Abram asked if the new ordinances would create a system or scenario where there is no public space for homeless individuals who have camping gear to be, as all public parks have playground areas and the sidewalks would be off limits as well. Petrulakis said he would have to see a map of the city and which of the public spaces would be included in the new ordinances.

Vice Mayor Pam Franco wanted to see if the sidewalk ordinance could be expanded not just to the downtown business district but other commercial districts in town.

The new ordinances weren’t well received by everyone.

“Using the police department resources on the homeless issue is demoralizing to everyone, most especially to law enforcement officers who find themselves fulfilling the roles of social and health care workers when they should be monitoring traffic and stopping crime. We don’t want our police department wasting their time on the homeless issue. We want the police department focusing on crime, crime prevention and traffic problems,” said Turlock resident Milt Trieweiler.

“We keep doing these things where people cannot go, but we’ve never said ‘hey, this is where you can go.’ I think when we start going down this line where we say ‘you can’t go there,’ we’re just asking to be sued,” said Turlock resident and former City Council member Mary Jackson.

The City Council took no action on the proposed ordinances.