MANTECA LAW ON TRIAL?
Homeless man targets anti-camping ordinance
Norman J. Moore is not going away. He’s a 71-year-old homeless man who has been homeless for the good part of a year after the home where he was staying with a friend was sold. He gets $800 a month in Social Security. There was a time in his life where he made bad decisions. He lost a business during a recession in the Midwest, ended up in the Bay Area near family and did handyman type of work until drinking cost him his driver’s license. Long story short, he’s homeless.
Moore has asked for help. He’s been told the best option is a subsidized senior living complex. There’s just one problem. It’s a long waiting list. Two years, five years — who knows?
Why the City of Manteca needs to worry about Moore has everything to do with what happened last year. He was cited for illegal camping under Manteca Municipal Code Section 12.20.030.
The ticket is for $1,205. Do the math. Moore receives $800 a month and likely has to eat. The city’s attorney did offer a compromise punishment that included community service work. Moore may be homeless but he’s not a stupid man. If he has no shelter that means he’s camping somewhere in and around Manteca every night. He could receive 100 tickets and be slapped with $120,500 in fines and it isn’t going to solve anything.
So Moore said no to the deal and exercised his right to a jury trial.
He is in Judge Northup’s courtroom in Stockton this Friday, March 16. Jury selection starts on Monday, March 19, and the trial will be underway in earnest on Tuesday, March 20. Moore believes “the entire homeless issues will be on trial, and the City of Manteca ordinance.”
Whether that is true depends upon how pumped up, skillful, and persuasive his court appointed attorney is. On the surface if I was on the jury the city should have no problem prevailing as based on the law as written he clearly violated it.
But what happens if a jury is persuaded the ordinance as written makes being homeless illegal? The one out the city has is wording in the ordinance that allows anyone, homeless or not, to sit or lie on public property between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The ordinance carves out exceptions for the Manteca Transit Center and Moffat Community Center (the Manteca Veterans Center) but not places like the grounds of the Manteca Civic Center where it is legal to sit or lie (in other words camp) between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Civic Center, vacant lots owned by the city, the area outside the animal shelter and other municipal buildings including the front landscaping of fire stations are the only other legal places besides sidewalks as long as there is adequate passage for the handicapped as dictated by federal law.
That’s because parks are legally closed to everyone overnight and other laws make it illegal to sit or lie in streets or the right-of-way for a freeway.
The ordinance clearly prohibits camping on private property unless it is by family or friends of the property owner with their permission and it is not for more than one consecutive night.
It is why the city is going after a downtown property owner that has given homeless permission to do just that between the walls of the roofless building in the 300 block of West Yosemite Avenue. The city is enforcing the rules to a degree but neither government or the courts move at the speed of life.
This brings us to Moore’s second dilemma. He is asking people to break the law to help him. He has issued a plea to anyone with a piece of property to give him permission to set up his tent until such time he can get housing. He’s asked that they call Pastor Patrick Welsh at the Manteca Gospel Rescue Mission at (209) 815-3349 or go to www.mgrmi.org. Of course if the property is within the city limits they’d be breaking the law by allowing Moore to set up his tent.
The ordinance makes it clear where camping or the use of camp paraphernalia is allowed and where it is banned.
It does beg the question where the more responsible homeless do with their stuff between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. If they sleep on public sidewalks in commercial areas or at the Manteca Civic Center they can’t leave their stuff in those places between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Moore in the past has rented self-storage space to stash his stuff. Most homeless that haven’t secured an undetected illegal camping site, either stash their stuff in landscaping around town or else lug it with them.
An obvious partial remedy is to do what some cities have done in Southern California where piles of camping paraphernalia stashed in landscaping or sitting on commercial sidewalks was detrimental to business as well as public health and safety. They took an older unused building such as the City of Manteca’s former vehicle maintenance building on Wetmore Street and employed garbage carts to allow the homeless to store belongings that they can access for an hour in the morning and an hour in the late afternoon to reduce junk piles in the street as well as provide a secure place homeless can place their belongings when they aren’t using them.
Just remember Moore and other homeless aren’t going away.