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Cracking Down On Homelessness Related Problems

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Sonora, CA — In an effort to limit where homeless camps can be located, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors gave staff direction to develop “clean and clear” and “critical infrastructure” ordinances.

The clean and clear ordinance would prohibit camping on county-owned property where it is creating a nuisance, and the critical infrastructure ordinance would outlaw camping near places that are public safety concerns (like heavily forested areas and bridges). The actual ordinances will be developed by county staff and brought back to the board for a vote at a later date.

Several people spoke in favor.

Sheriff Bill Pooley stated, “We definitely need a tool to manage and keep the properties within our county safe. If we do not do so, we will continue to have the same problems we’ve been having. In just the recent past we have had fires, a shooting, I believe two stabbings, and a sexual assault, on county property. If we don’t do something, and have a tool to manage these types of things, it is only going to get worse.”

Stephen Gregory with the Tuolumne County Fire Department, added, “At Camp Hope, we saw quite a few fires over the years that it was open. Multiple vehicle fires, RV fires, vegetation fires, warming and cooking fires without clearance, heaters in tents, wood stoves in pickup trucks, and fires used as retaliation for crimes or perceived crimes. From a fire perspective, we obviously support this ordinance.”

There are legal issues regarding the prohibition of homeless camps, including a 2019 court ruling, Martin Vs. Boise, which requires municipalities to have a place for homeless residents to go, if there is a camping prohibition in public spaces.

To meet the requirement, the county is planning to create a place for homeless residents camp, and park a vehicle, long-term. Some county-owned options discussed were near Justice Center Drive, an old Christmas Tree lot on the Sanguinetti Loop, and the Jamestown Mine. The consensus among the board was the Sanguenetti Loop site.

It would likely be a three-month pilot program and open 24 hours.

Today’s item was to give early input, but final decisions, and logistics,  will be determined at later meetings.

The vote was taken shortly before breaking for lunch. On a related note, later today the Supervisors will vote on finalizing the purchase of three properties for homeless programs, two in Sonora and one in Jamestown.

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