Ocean­side loi­ter law is crit­i­cized

City’s pro­posed ban on sit­ting and ly­ing on side­walks would tar­get home­less, crit­ics say.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - PHIL DIEHL philip.diehl @sdunion­tri­bune.com Diehl writes for the San Diego Union-Tri­bune.

Any­one in Ocean­side sit­ting or ly­ing on a down­town pub­lic side­walk dur­ing busi­ness hours could be cited un­der a pro­posed or­di­nance that some peo­ple say tar­gets the home­less.

Sev­eral cities across the state have adopted sim­i­lar or­di­nances in re­cent years, draw­ing crit­i­cism from home­less rights ad­vo­cates who say the laws dis­crim­i­nate against tran­sients and the poor.

“We should all be a lit­tle ner­vous when sit­ting in a pub­lic space is deemed a crime,” said Paul Bo­den, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the West­ern Re­gional Ad­vo­cacy Project in San Fran­cisco. “Lo­cal gov­ern­ments are pass­ing laws they know will be en­forced dis­crim­i­nately. If it was en­forced against ev­ery­one, it would be off the books in a heart­beat.”

The Ocean­side or­di­nance doesn’t men­tion the home­less. Au­thor­i­ties say it’s aimed only at keep­ing side­walks clear for pedes­tri­ans.

“It’s all about safety,” po­lice Sgt. Ken­drick Sadler said last week. “We’re not look­ing to ticket peo­ple .... It’s just a tool to keep peo­ple mov­ing along.”

Peo­ple sit­ting or ly­ing on the side­walks are a trip­ping haz­ard, Sadler said.

Also, dis­tracted pedes­tri­ans try­ing to avoid some­one on the side­walk are more likely to step into traf­fic or walk into an ob­sta­cle such as a fire hy­drant, a street sign, a tree or an­other per­son.

Ocean­side has one of San Diego County’s largest home­less pop­u­la­tions. The an­nual countywide one-day home­less count taken by vol­un­teers in Jan­uary showed the city had 531 peo­ple with­out shel­ter, the largest num­ber any­where in the county ex­cept down­town San Diego.

Tran­sients of­ten sit or sleep on Ocean­side side­walks, espe­cially in the blocks near the pier be­tween Coast High­way and the Strand.

Com­pound­ing the prob­lem in re­cent years are a num­ber of new mul­ti­story build­ings with con­do­mini­ums on the up­per floors and shops at street level.

That type of mixed-use de­vel­op­ment is bring­ing many more peo­ple down­town.

Like other San Diego County coastal com­mu­ni­ties, Ocean­side is also mak­ing changes that en­cour­age peo­ple to park and walk to their shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment des­ti­na­tions, in­stead of driv­ing as close as pos­si­ble to ev­ery lo­ca­tion they visit.

That means more peo­ple liv­ing and shop­ping down­town are shar­ing the side­walks with the re­gion’s tran­sients.

“We get com­plaints from busi­ness own­ers” about peo­ple sit­ting or sleep­ing where they block a side­walk or an en­trance, Sadler said.

“Right now we don’t have any­thing on the books, as far as or­di­nances that pre­vent it,” Sadler said. Peo­ple can be tick­eted if they are “pur­posely” or in­ten­tion­ally are try­ing to block some­one’s path, but not if they just de­cide to sit down on a pub­lic side­walk.

Peo­ple sit­ting on the street are a com­mon sight out­side G.I. Joe’s Sur­plus, a mil­i­tary sup­ply store on Pier View Way.

“It be­comes a has­sle,” said store man­ager Michael Cerda. “It’s not ap­peal­ing to the tourists when you have these kinds of peo­ple hang­ing around.”

Tran­sients of­ten con­gre­gate around the util­ity boxes on the street, he said. Some­times they’re loud and bois­ter­ous, which can frighten tourists or any­one un­fa­mil­iar with the area.

Usu­ally, when the po­lice come, the tran­sients just move to an­other spot nearby.

“I don’t know a so­lu­tion for that,” Cerda said, with a shrug of his shoul­ders.

One so­lu­tion pro­posed by Bo­den, the home­less ad­vo­cate, would be for cities to pro­vide more money and in­cen­tives for de­vel­op­ers to build af­ford­able hous­ing.

“Give peo­ple an al­ter­na­tive to sleep­ing in the streets,” he said. “That would take us a long way to­ward gov­ern­ment not feel­ing like they need these laws.”

The pro­posed or­di­nance, which the city’s Po­lice and Fire Com­mis­sion ap­proved July 20, could go to the City Coun­cil for ap­proval later this year.

It cov­ers all pub­lic side­walks west of In­ter­state 5 to the beach, and south of the Camp Pendle­ton bor­der to Vista Way.

San Fran­cisco vot­ers ap­proved a “sit/lie” or­di­nance in 2015 to ban sit­ting or ly­ing on side­walks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

It re­quires po­lice to is­sue a warn­ing to first-time of­fend­ers, but re­peated vi­o­la­tions could lead to fines or jail time.

Chico, Red­ding and Mon­terey also have ap­proved sim­i­lar laws in the last five years.

Phil Diehl San Diego Union Tri­bune

OCEAN­SIDE po­lice talk to two peo­ple sit­ting on Pier View Way last week. The city is con­sid­er­ing an or­di­nance un­der which peo­ple sit­ting or ly­ing on a down­town pub­lic side­walk dur­ing busi­ness hours could be cited.

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