The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District decided to draft an ordinance Thursday night that would allow sleeping, but not camping, in I.V. parks.
Roughly 30 community members attended the IVRPD meeting, the overwhelming majority of whom expressed support for homeless camping in I.V. parks. The five-member board passed a recommendation to draft an ordinance which would prohibit camping in I.V. parks but would permit overnight sleeping and reduce the penalty for camping from a misdemeanor to an infraction. The recent discovery that a county ordinance prohibiting camping and sleeping on county property does not apply to I.V. parks and that it has been wrongly enforced for over a decade had prompted the recommendation.
The difference between camping and sleeping was left fairly ambiguous. Board members said sleeping persons are permitted bedding and protection from the elements, which may include tents. IVRPD General Manager Derek Johnson said current county zoning laws require a conditional use permit in order to create official campgrounds.
“The District does not have the conditional use permit which would allow camping in the parks. If they were to actively permit camping, the district attorney could enforce the zoning violation with fines or other actions,” he said. “The process of filing for a conditional use permit would consume a great deal of county financial resources and staff time.”
On Jan. 27, I.V. homeless stationed themselves in tents in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park to protest the lack of living space. Since then, the protesters have moved to Estero Park, where about ten tents have been erected.
At Thursday night’s meeting, board member Harley Augustino said the cooperative attitude of those who attended the meeting would enable greater success in creating solutions to the question of homelessness in I.V.
“I am noticing tonight that the community members here have a much more positive tone and I have heard numerous suggestions of cooperation,” he said. “I don’t see any reason that a final decision needs to go through so quickly, especially when faced with the county solution that is so draconian. In order to work something out, we need the contributions of committee and community members.”
Board member Diane Conn said the presence of homeless in I.V. parks might be a liability to a board already burdened by two other lawsuits. The IVRPD is currently embroiled in lawsuits with the Libertarian party — which alleges the board did not make public notice of a meeting — and with Craig Geyer, an I.V. Project Area Committee member and businessman who is challenging the legality of the PAC’s formation.
Conn said the homeless issue is not the IVRPD’s responsibility.
“We are at a personal liability if injury or property damage occurs as a result of the campers and we can’t afford to add another lawsuit to our list,” she said. “None of you camping will listen to the fact that we don’t have the ability to do social services, and this is an issue for a social service agency. Its frustrating to me that you keep asking us to fix a problem that we are not equipped to do.”
Homeless advocate Peter Marin said attention to the plight of the homeless is the responsibility of all community members, and the extension of camping rights is the most basic step that can be taken to begin to address the problem.
“If these people were victims of a flood or fire who moved into the park to seek refuge, if they were middle class people, do you think the Parks District would be kicking them off? They would be searching for ways to allow them to stay there. The park is the most logical place for these people to go,” he said.
“If people don’t want homeless to sleep in parks, then they have a moral obligation to find another place for these people to go,” Marin said. “The right to shelter is not something we can take away from these people. Which is more important, for the homeless to place tents to shelter themselves from the elements or for students to play Frisbee?”