A new ordinance that prohibits sleeping and camping in Isla Vista parks hasn’t persuaded local homeless to take down their tents.
The I.V. Recreation and Parks District passed an ordinance April 18 that prohibits sleeping and camping in parks from sunset to 6 a.m. The wording of the new policy, however, has prevented the I.V. Foot Patrol from permanently disbanding existing camps.
The IVRPD set an intentionally low fine of $20 plus a 12-hour eviction from the district for violating the ordinance. However, because the board classified overnight sleeping or camping as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, officers cannot make an arrest or remove a person from the park unless the individual cited has an outstanding warrant, IVFP Lt. Russ Birchim said.
“The ordinance doesn’t allow us to physically remove individuals from the parks. Because the board made these infractions, it’s like receiving a traffic ticket, so we are just citing them and asking them to leave. Some people are no longer sleeping in the parks but many have remained,” he said. “Is this effective? No. The ordinance was watered down so that police can’t take action. What purpose does the law serve now?”
IVRPD board member Pegeen Soutar said the board passed a lax ordinance hoping to discourage the arrival of new homeless and encourage other homeless to disband their camps without confrontation.
“There seems like there are still a lot of folks around. [The] board was hoping people would respect the ordinance and move on,” she said. “I don’t mind people sleeping around, [but] it’s when it gets large that we run into problems. It’s been a week and there has been some improvement. I am hoping to get some of these new folks gone and get the local folks to start kicking it low key.”
The IVFP has issued 23 citations since it began enforcing the ordinance April 23.
“IVRPD wants the people out of the parks so we are actively patrolling the area. Prior to this the enforcement of the law was complaint-driven,” Birchim said. “The population is a mix – mostly longtime I.V. homeless but there are some new people around.”
According to David Arviso, a homeless resident of Estero Park, there are eight tents housing approximately a dozen people in that camp. Arviso said after the Foot Patrol began issuing citations, approximately five people left, many of whom he considered instigators of the prior violence.
“The stabbing here was a domestic dispute, it had very little to do with the camp because those people had always remained separate, they didn’t join into the community of the camp,” he said.
Arviso said he has received two citations, but plans on contesting them in court and remaining in the camp as long as possible.
“Everyday we’re here is another day of victory,” he said. “I plan on staying here as long as I can.”
The debate about allowing a permanent homeless campground surfaced three months ago. On Jan. 27 approximately fifteen homeless people pitched tents in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park to encourage the creation of a legal campground in I.V. During the 10-day protest, the IVFP cited only a few people for violating a county sleeping and camping law, which the IVRPD later learned did not apply to I.V. parks. Birchim said during the tent protest the group lived in “peaceful coexistence” with law enforcement.
After the IVRPD realized it did not have a sleeping and camping ordinance, more homeless came into I.V., and the original protestors encouraged the IVRPD to continue to allow sleeping in the parks, instead of passing an ordinance similar to the one in the county.
The majority of the homeless community moved their tents from Anisq’ Oyo’ to Estero Park. But families and long-term residents began to express concern about the safety of children in the area, and on April 17 and 18, two separate stabbing incidents involving homeless who were new to the area occurred.
The board created a task force and after months of pressure from community members on both sides of the issue, finally decided to ban sleeping and camping.