Rohnert Park considers new camping rules to mitigate health and fire risks – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat | Gmx Pharm

Rohnert Park is considering new regulations that would limit where homeless people can camp and prohibit the storage of certain items in camps on public property.

Violations would be treated as misdemeanors – punishable by imprisonment or large fines – rather than as civil offences.

City officials hope the proposed changes and increased enforcement efforts will address issues of garbage accumulation, accessibility for emergency responders and reducing the risk of fire in homeless camps.

The city’s current camping ordinance prohibits camping city-wide, but is unenforceable as a 2018 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found it unconstitutional to ban camps without providing shelter to people living with homelessness.

An estimated 250 vulnerable residents live in Rohnert Park, Sonoma County’s third-largest city, but there is no permanent housing.

The proposed ordinance update comes weeks after a July 2 fire alarm at a large warehouse filled with debris in Oakland that Rohnert Park administrators said illustrated the significant fire risk and need for additional regulations. It is also being considered after last week’s two small fires in Santa Rosa, which officials believe started in homeless camps.

On July 25, the Santa Rosa Fire Department responded to a fire that burned down a small city-owned lot on Stony Point Road near Mesa Way. Three days later, firefighters extinguished a fire that destroyed a tent in a camp on the site of the burned Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel that was destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire.

Rohnert Park City Council gave employees the green light to amend the city’s camping ordinance on July 26, but the proposed changes led some residents to demand more action from the city.

“It looks great on paper, but it’s never going to happen,” longtime resident Raquel Guinn told elected officials during the meeting.

The council will consider the new rules at its August 9 meeting and if approved, the rules will come into effect on September 8.

Similar regulations have been enacted in other cities across the state, employees said.

address health and safety

Rohnert Park currently bans overnight stays in parks and camping near boreholes, but the city wants to further limit where people affected by homelessness can pitch their tents.

The proposed rules would prohibit camping and storing items on the street, sidewalk and rights of way if doing so would impede pedestrian, bicycle or vehicular traffic or interfere with a construction site or other activity for which the city has given permission.

Under the proposal, camps may not be within 10 feet of a driveway or loading dock, within 5 feet of a building entrance, or within 2 feet of a fire hydrant or other fire service connection.

Development services director Mary Grace Pawson said the regulations are designed to protect public safety, reduce the risk of vehicles or bicycles falling into camps and allow first responders easier access to buildings and fire hydrants.

Pawson said the proposed rules do not violate the court’s ruling because they do not provide for a blanket ban on camping.

The staff had considered banning camping in certain areas of the city, but were reluctant to make a recommendation until construction of a 60-unit condominium for the city’s homeless residents is complete.

In addition to determining where camps can be set up, the staffers are proposing regulations that would limit the size of camps and the items allowed in camps on city property, such as the sanctioned homeless camp at the gated commuter parking lot on Roberts Lake Road.

According to Pawson, city workers found several tents sheltered under large tarps, making it difficult for first responders to reach the area in the event of a medical emergency or fire. They’ve found propane tanks, gas canisters, stacked wood, and tangled electrical cords that stacked together pose a fire hazard. Feces and other biohazardous waste have also been reported.

The camp, which has grown to about 100 tents since city officials first allowed homeless residents to set up camp there in February, is said to be the largest in the county.

Four fires have been reported since March, Pawson said.

Pawson said additional regulations are needed to curb the accumulation of belongings and trash, biohazardous waste and the storage of combustible items.

Suggested rules include:

  • Limiting campsites to 10ft by 10ft and requiring a 4ft buffer between camps.
  • Ban on the discharge of gray and black water.
  • Prohibiting unauthorized electrical connections to reduce the risk of electric shock and fire.
  • Limiting the storage of gas and propane tanks.
  • Prohibit fire except when cooking in fireproof containers. Camp, bonfires and garbage fires would be banned.
  • Establishing noise levels in warehouses.

Violations would be considered offenses punishable by arrest or fines, but the police would have discretion to classify violations as offenses carrying a reduced penalty. Violations would also be considered a public nuisance, which would allow code enforcement officials to resolve issues through an administrative process.

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