MAN­TECA LAW ON TRIAL?

Home­less man tar­gets anti-camp­ing or­di­nance

Ripon Bulletin - - Front Page - ▶ DEN­NIS WY­ATT,

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.

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