Every time a homeless person sleeps in an Isla Vista park overnight they are violating an I.V. law – one, however, that has not been enforced since August.
The 2002 Camping and Sleeping Ordinance, which prohibits such overnight stays, was the main subject of debate at last night’s Isla Vista Recreation and Park District board meeting. Per the request of the IVRPD, the I.V. Foot Patrol has not enforced the policy since August, and pending a more permanent decision from the board, may not do so in the future.
In the meantime, however, board member Kelly Burns recommended the board motion to have the ordinance enforced. The board consented, but agreed to further talks on the issue.
“It is a really difficult situation – from one day to the next we have people camping in the park, we have people coming from all over, and they’re just sleeping,” IVRPD board member Diane Conn said. “We wanted [the ordinance] to focus on people who were causing problems in the park.”
Conn and other members have in recent months wavered on the board’s 2002 decision to approve the ordinance, citing the desire not to criminalize homelessness or treat local transients unfairly. The ordinance states that no person shall camp or sleep between one half hour after sunset and 6:00 a.m.
The original intent of the law was to prevent transients from other parts of the county – where sleeping in parks is illegal – from flooding I.V.’s limited space, causing various sanitation problems and fire hazards.
The ordinance was in effect until August 2006, when Conn asked I.V. Foot Patrol Lt. Sol Linver to discontinue enforcement. After over an hour of discussion last night, the IVRPD decided to make no immediate changes to the ordinance and requested a review with the intent of a possible retraction.
During the meeting, Linver asked the board to give clearer instructions on what it wants by either telling deputies to enforce the law, or overturn it. He said such lack of communication between the two offices could not continue.
“I’m just looking for direction,” Linver said.
Conn said she knows it is not the job of the IVRPD to enforce the ordinance, and does not want to take authority away from the IVFP.
“If it sounds disrespectful to the effort you were making, I’d like to clarify that now – I’m not opposed to enforcing the camping policy,” Conn said to Linver. “On the other hand, it is very hard for me to criminalize what the homeless people are doing.”
At the meeting, several community members voiced their disappointment in the board’s lack of consistency and stated their own opinions on the matter.
Longtime I.V. resident and homeless advocate Jenny Jett said the homeless should be allowed to stay in the parks at all hours.
“Homeless are valuable members of the community,” Jett said. “They do spend money at businesses, they recycle, they could educate students. … The community should work with the homeless, not against them.”
Jill Wallerstedt – coordinator of the St. Brigid Fellowship, an I.V. church that places transients in housing and rehabilitation programs – said the ordinance might be illegal. In her address to the board, she cited a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco: six homeless men brought a case against the City of Los Angeles, claiming their refusal to allow transients to sleep outside is “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Wallerstedt said the court sided with the homeless men, setting a precedent for other such ordinances.
“If the community doesn’t provide basic necessities such as a place to sleep for these people, we can’t force them to leave the parks,” Wallerstedt said. “St. Brigid would like to work with the IVRPD to come up with a solution.”