An activist holds a "Homeless is not a Crime" sign
An activist holds a “Homeless is not a Crime” sign in front of Santa Cruz City Hall to protest the since-nixed Temporary Outdoor Living Ordinance.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Housing

From TOLO to CSSO: Revamped camping ordinance heads to Santa Cruz council Tuesday, so what’s changed?

Among the biggest changes of the revised law: Whereas previously proposed rules would’ve left areas with certain zoning open to overnight camping on public property, the updated ordinance essentially prohibits daytime and nighttime camping citywide once certain conditions are met.

Amid pushback and public outcry from all corners of Santa Cruz, city leaders last month hit the reset button on a contentious law that would’ve restricted where people experiencing homelessness can camp overnight.

Now, a revamped version of the ordinance — then known as the “Temporary Outdoor Living Ordinance,” or TOLO, but now renamed the “Camping Services and Standards Ordinance” — is set to come back before the Santa Cruz City Council Tuesday for a first reading, kicking off another round of public input and discussion around the controversial issue.

If approved by councilmembers, the ordinance would head to a second and final reading later this month.

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Homeless advocates opposed the previous version of the law because they saw it as unnecessarily punitive, focused on mainly sweeping the homeless out of sight and criminalizing basic needs without offering any help.

Meanwhile, residents in certain neighborhoods, including Seabright, said they felt blindsided by the law, especially by provisions that would have allowed people to camp overnight near residential and commercial areas.

In mid-April, when councilmembers suspended the law, they struck an apologetic tone, expressing regret over the lack of effort put into gathering community input about the ordinance before it was passed.

“It is very clear to me that we have not gotten this right. And I believe we all see value in acknowledging that upfront,” Mayor Donna Meyers said at the time.

Among the biggest changes in the revised law: Whereas the previously proposed rules would’ve left areas with certain zoning open to overnight camping on public property — a proposal that sparked a vehement public backlash in some neighborhoods — the updated ordinance essentially prohibits daytime and nighttime camping citywide once certain conditions are met.

Firstly, for a daytime camping prohibition to take effect, a program will need to be available for unhoused people to be able to store their personal effects and belongings. Secondly, for a nighttime ban on camping to kick in, the city will have to provide at least 150 safe sleeping spaces on city-owned or operated properties or facilities.

Those safe sleeping sites couldn’t be located near residential areas or schools, according to city documents.

The city is still far from settling on an appropriate site for such a program, but city staff note in the council agenda item that they initially are looking at downtown parking lots as potential locations, including the River Street garage and the parking structure on Cedar Street between Church and Walnut Streets. Also mentioned as potential options: the River Street Shelter at 115 C Coral Street and the previous site of a city-managed homeless camp at 1220 River St.

But before initiating operation of any facility, staff would conduct community outreach, focusing on those residents and businesses located near the safe sleeping locations, staff wrote.

“It’s really early days on the location and siting,” city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith told Lookout.

Early estimates show that the safe sleeping program could cost around $750,000 a year to serve about 150 individuals at three sites of 50 people each, according to the staff report. Operating a staffed, daytime storage program is estimated to cost about $75,000 per location per year.

A managed camp with 24/7 staffing could cost more than $1 million per year, staff wrote.

Santa Cruz this week is also planning to kick off the search for an outside organization to operate both the daytime storage and safe sleeping facilities by releasing a so-called Request for Qualifications or RFQ.

Aside from a safe sleeping site and a storage program — which potentially could be co-located — as prerequisites to a citywide camping ban, the ordinance also contains provisions that would prevent enforcement of the ordinance until certain COVID-19 thresholds are met. The rules wouldn’t go into effect unless the county is in the “yellow tier” or lower, or the tiering system ends and the state more fully reopens the economy, which is expected to happen by June 15.

Another change in the updated ordinance has to do with people who have disabilities. While the previous ordinance allowed for individuals with qualifying disabilities to remain in place for up to four days, the revised version “provides for non-enforcement of general encampment prohibitions” against those with qualifying disabilities in certain circumstances.

“With that said, no individual can remain in one location for more than 96 hours, and reasonable assistance shall be provided to assist movement of anyone with a qualifying disability,” staff wrote.

And in response to an April letter from the American Civil Liberties Union that raised concerns about unsheltered individuals who might work at night and thus have to sleep during the daytime, city staff revised the law to allow daytime sleeping areas for those who work nights.

This week’s renewed attempt to approve the ordinance comes against the backdrop of a legal battle playing out between the city and homeless advocates over the city’s efforts to clear an unsanctioned homeless encampment in San Lorenzo Park. The city and the plaintiff in the case, the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, are expected back before a federal judge on Thursday after the judge ordered both sides to bring forward a proposal to end the litigation. If a deal is reached, it could set the stage for an injunction against the city — which had been barred from clearing the camp — to be lifted.

It also comes as Caltrans has begun evicting occupants of a large roadside homeless encampment at the intersections of Highways 1 and 9.

Get involved
  • Event
    How to watch the meeting
    The council will take up its regular agenda starting at 1 p.m. Here’s how to tune in: - Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/94684401344 - Online at http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/government/city-council/council-meetings Or: Call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one. - 1-833-548-0276 (Toll Free) - 1-833-548-0282 (Toll Free) - 1-877-853-5247 (Toll Free) - 1-669-900-9128 - 1-253-215-8782 Enter the meeting ID number: 946 8440 1344 - When prompted for a Participant ID, press #. - Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment. - It will be your turn to speak when the Mayor calls on you. Press *6 to unmute yourself. The timer will then be set to 2 minutes.
    Tuesday, May 11, 2021 - 1:00 PM