San Clemente city officials are looking to extend tent restrictions to city beaches in a move that could push more homeless people off the sands.
The council moved forward with an ordinance Tuesday night that would restrict the use of certain tents from local beaches, effectively blocking homeless people from taking shelter in these areas.
The restrictions prevent the use of any tents that are closed on more than two sides. Tents can be used as long as they have openings on two sides and officers can see the people inside.
These rules were already in place for city parks, but council members voted unanimously to extend this policy to the shoreline.
“This is a necessary step in light of the growing use of such structures on our beaches, which has raised public safety and aesthetic concerns from our residents and city staff,” Danielle Sorahan, code compliance manager, said during Tuesday’s council meeting.
Earlier this year, Huntington Beach officials approved new rules limiting activity for homeless people in city parks and parking structures by adopting similar rules for tents – they must be open on at least two sides.
It’s not the first time the San Clemente City Council has discussed ways to address homelessness on local beaches.
Earlier this year, city leaders directed staff to speak with the county about setting up a homeless shelter somewhere in south county to address encampments on the beaches.
Yet officials made it clear that they didn’t want a shelter within San Clemente.
San Clemente officials also approved a contract with a private security company earlier this year to patrol beaches after residents voiced concerns about public safety in these areas.
Tuesday’s proposal was introduced and passed with minimal discussion.
“By amending this code section we aim to achieve consistency in our enforcement, in our parks and beaches alike,” Sorahan said. “This will empower our code compliance officers, park rangers and sheriffs to address potential violations more effectively.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Chris Duncan asked about young families that bring tents on beaches for their children.
Sorahan said the city will be approaching the change from an “educational standpoint” to allow people time to make adjustments.
“Our code states that any violation of our code can be pursued as a misdemeanor, but we really look at this as an infraction,” Sorahan said. “We will most likely give two or three warnings before we would even start issuing fines or administrative penalties.”
Orange County cities, including San Clemente, have landed in federal court before over homelessness policies.
The County of Orange — along with cities like Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa — got roped into a federal lawsuit in 2018 when county officials started clearing homeless encampments from the Santa Ana riverbed without giving those people anywhere else to go.
Those cities lost that lawsuit, and U.S. District Judge David Carter ruled that unless they set up shelter beds to accommodate the homeless, they weren’t allowed to push them out of where they were living.
Nearly every city in Orange County was dragged into the lawsuit, which spurred regional homeless shelters and shared services among cities.
Also in 2018, San Clemente and other South OC cities grappled with a federal lawsuit over the region’s homeless policies. Similarly, the settlement required that shelter beds be offered and available within the same zone of the county before enforcing the camping and loitering laws against a homeless person.
San Clemente’s tent ordinance will return at a later meeting for a second reading and final vote before it can go into effect.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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