LYNN LA • MARCH 29, 2023
From CalMatters’ new reporter covering homelessness, Marisa Kendall:
Despite growing frustration over California’s massive homeless encampments, Republicans didn’t get very far Tuesday in their attempt to crack down on camping in certain public spaces.
Senate Bill 31, introduced by Senate GOP leader Brian Jones of San Diego, would ban people from sitting, lying or sleeping within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, park or library. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor or an infraction.
It’s a Republican bill, but Democratic-led cities all over the state, including Los Angeles and Sacramento, have been passing similar ordinances that bar camping in certain areas. And Gov. Gavin Newsom over the past two years has frequently called attention to the crisis, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to help cities move people out of encampments, calling on cities to close specific camps and even showing up in person to help with cleanups.
SB 31 failed to make it out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, with one yes vote, one no vote and three committee members abstaining. But it’s not dead yet — the senators agreed to reconsider the bill later.
- Jones: “Our current approach to homelessness is failing and Californians are simply tired of it. We need to try something new.”
Jones argued his bill takes a “compassionate” approach. Authorities would need to provide a 72-hour warning before forcing people to move, and give people camped in off-limits areas information about other places to sleep, homeless services and shelters.
Michelle Pariset of Public Advocates, who opposes the bill, said in some cities, the law effectively would prohibit camping in almost all public spaces. “There would be nowhere left for people to be,” she said. “So where are people supposed to go?”
In response to that concern, Jones said he’d be willing to consider shrinking the ban from 1,000 feet to 500 or 750 feet from schools and other so-called “sensitive areas.”
Democrat Sen. Scott Wiener from San Francisco abstained, arguing cities and counties should be free to impose their own rules about camping.
- Wiener: “It’s a huge problem, but I just don’t think that this is the right approach for the entire state.”
Encampments grew in many cities during the pandemic, when officials generally stopped clearing camps in favor of letting residents “shelter in place.” Now, the state is experiencing a backlash against those camps. Californians view homelessness as one of the top issues plaguing the state, and more than 2,000 Californians have signed a petition in support of his bill, Jones said.
Backed by eight Republicans, the bill has just one Democratic co-author — Sen. Bill Dodd of Napa — which is likely to make it a tough sell in the deep-blue state. But Jones on Tuesday argued the issue extends beyond politics.
- Jones: “No matter how liberal or conservative people are, or agnostic or non-political or very political, Californians are infuriated by the encampments that they see in their communities every day. We need to do more.”
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