Updated Aug. 26
A judge on Thursday ruled the city of Sacramento can put an anti-camping ballot measure before voters in November, but said the court may intervene after the election.
The measure would ban homeless camps on public property and require the city to create emergency shelter spaces. It would also give the city authority to sweep encampments without offering shelter.
Homeless advocates who lost the lawsuit argued the measure would violate a federal ruling known as Martin v. Boise by criminalizing unhoused people for living outdoors when there isn’t enough indoor shelter.
Daniel Conway, chair of Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks, welcomed the ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang. Conway’s group proposed the initial and more aggressive version of the measure.
“Judge Chang’s ruling today demonstrates this initiative is legally sound and that Sacramento voters deserve to have a voice in how the city addresses the greatest challenge facing our community,” Conway said in a statement.
Chang ruled that advocates failed to show the measure is invalid, but said the measure can be legally challenged if voters pass it. She added it is unclear if the Martin ruling applies to the measure and whether the measure would violate the case.
“These issues can be litigated post-election, and perhaps be the subject of a temporary restraining order at that time, if necessary and the appropriate showing is made,” Chang wrote. “If the ordinance is passed by the voters it will take time to implement, and only becomes operative upon the City and the County approving a legally binding memorandum of understanding concerning their respective roles to ‘improve the homelessness crisis.’”
The Neighbors Against Measure O, a group opposing the measure, issued a statement saying members will campaign against it.
“The fact that this ordinance, which was bought and paid for by wealthy business people, primarily affects people of color is disqualifying on its face,” Mark Merin, the attorney who represented advocates in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Sacramento voters will agree.”
Five Sacramento nonprofit groups sued the city over the so-called “Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act of 2022” last week, months after officials first voted to put it on the ballot. The City Council initially approved the measure in April as a compromise to a more aggressive version business leaders filed paperwork for in February. Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks withdrew its proposal after working on the compromise.
If voters pass the measure with a simple majority, the measure would require the city to create enough shelter beds or safe camping sites for at least 60% of the unhoused people living in the city.
The city has roughly 1,100 shelter spaces, which are full on any given night. About 9,300 unhoused people live in Sacramento County, according to the 2022 Homeless Point in Time Count.
Once the city meets the 60% requirement, unhoused people camping on public property could face misdemeanors for rejecting available emergency shelter. The city could also sweep encampments without first offering shelter.
The ruling came two days after Sacramento city and county government officials passed ordinances banning encampments on sidewalks, along the American River Parkway or at places deemed critical infrastructure.
City officials say the sidewalk ordinance allows the staff to move unhoused people and encampments blocking sidewalks or building entrances. Unless there is a public health or safety emergency, the ordinance lays out a process for giving people 8-hour notice and offering storage space. People who refuse to move would face misdemeanor charges and possible fines.
Meanwhile, the county approved laws banning camps along the American River and Dry Creek parkways, plus places like levees and schools. The laws go into effect in September, but officials say the county won’t widely enforce them any time soon because of an insufficient amount of park rangers, sheriff’s deputies and shelter space.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the day of the ruling. It happened Thursday.
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