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Supervisors Discuss Homelessness Ordinances And Related Fines

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Sonora, CA — The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors approved initial steps to pass a pair of ordinances related to homelessness, and the big item of discussion was whether to include penalties for violators.

It takes multiple readings to approve these types of ordinances, and the supervisors voted 5-0 to waive the first reading (toward approving) both a critical infrastructure ordinance and a clean and clear ordinance.

The first prohibits sleeping, constructing a tent, parking an RV, or having any other type of temporary shelter in areas important to the operation and functioning of the county. It could be on either public or private land. It would also prohibit having a campfire, or any cooking fire, near that infrastructure.

The second, a clean and clear ordinance, is exclusive to county-owned property. It would prohibit people from establishing encampments that “create a nuisance.” Similar to the critical infrastructure ordinance, it would provide violators a 72-hour notice to vacate the land (or immediately if an emergency arises). If the county needs to confiscate property, it would be stored for up to 90 days so the owner can retrieve it.

A handful of community members raised concerns about the county’s plans to put a fine of $100 toward the first violation, $200 for a second violation, and $500 for each additional violation (within a year).

Many members of the non-profit group Give Someone A Chance, which provides services to help those unsheltered, argued that the fines would “criminalize” homelessness.

The supervisors, and county staff, stressed that the goal is to help people, but there needs to be teeth in the ordinance for any bad actors.

District Four Supervisor, Kathleen Haff argued that all five of the board members are sensitive to the needs of the unhoused, and the first part of the planning has been to get the housing and programs in place.

She said, “What we are now trying to address, is the folks who like living on the street, who don’t want the help, and they want to continue living on the street, and reject services that are offered. We have to have some sort of stick to make sure that we have an equal balance here.”

The board voted 5-0 to move the ordinances forward along with the proposed penalties. More details will be worked out at future meetings, including more about the locations it will cover.