Last week, the Sacramento City Council approved changes to our sidewalk ordinance to address unlawful camping, but the headline only tells part of the story.
I supported the ordinance after months of discussion and significant revisions. This ordinance first appeared before the council’s Law and Legislation Committee in June, but the initial language was vague and unacceptably punitive for people with nowhere to go.
Don’t get me wrong: No one wants sidewalks to be blocked. It creates significant issues for folks who are walking or biking through town and acute issues for those with limited mobility. But simply telling someone to move when there is no place for them to go does not solve that issue.
The revised ordinance took significant steps to address these concerns. Not only was it better than it would have otherwise been, but I believe this ordinance sets the city on a real path toward implementing humane and effective management practices until we can realize long-term solutions to the homelessness crisis.
It’s not lost on me that at the same time the City Council was voting on our amended sidewalk measure, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance for the American River Parkway that lacked the type of protections we worked so hard to enshrine in the city policy.
City staff members worked tirelessly to define the impact as surgically as possible, limiting our protections to 4 feet of passable space and entrances to buildings, slightly more than what is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The county, on the other hand, passed a broad ordinance that encompasses the entire parkway without any nuance.
The city took responsibility for providing a real solution by directing its staff to procure storage space and identify alternative locations for folks to go to before enforcement would occur, while the county simply directed the Sheriff’s Office to give encampment residents 48 hours’ notice to relocate without any assurance that they would be given a place to go.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg took the additional step to include language in our resolution directing staff not to seek misdemeanor fines or jail time unless necessary. Meanwhile, county supervisors expressed concern about enforcement but didn’t pursue any changes.
It’s unacceptable that the leaders of Sacramento County — which provides all health and human services for our community and has a much larger budget and more land for shelter expansion — would abdicate their responsibility to ensure their enforcement measures are humane and effective rather than just displacing people into nearby communities.
If we can figure this out, so can they.
As people in our council chambers applauded the county ordinance’s adoption, the mayor shared his concerns that the county would simply displace people into the city.
“I don’t know why you’re clapping,” he said, “because guess where a lot of those people are going to end up if we don’t have a robust partnership agreement with the county, where they are actually providing the intensive outreach and services that we’re going to need to help all of these people. So please be careful what you wish for. … Frustration is not a substitute for thought leadership.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m extremely concerned that many of the camps from the Parkway will simply be relocated into surrounding areas, and the city simply does not have the space or resources to address a group that large.
We’ll keep pushing for what we can do as a city to be done as quickly as possible. But as our crisis worsens under increasingly punitive measures imposed by surrounding governments, I hope we can all be united in pushing county leaders to do their job. They are the ones best positioned to develop a meaningful regional strategy to address homelessness. We cannot keep waiting for the real solutions we desperately need.
Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela represents District 4.