Imperial Beach has banned camping or sleeping in public with an ordinance that reaches into every last corner, from pavement to median, "including but not limited to dirt or landscaped areas."
The new law prohibits storing belongings on public property. Sidewalk vendors with permits aren't affected, but for the homeless, almost anywhere they sleep or park an overflowing bike or cart is off limits.
The city council voted unanimously to pass the code change on September 18, expanding the areas already regulated – beaches, parks, pier, and plaza.
"We want to make sure that the same concerns we have over sanitary conditions" in those areas is extended to the public right of ways, said city manager Andy Hall when the ordinance was first introduced.
The city explains it as a proactive safety measure. "We have seen the impacts other cities are experiencing from the unsanitary conditions," Hall said.
This year's regional homeless count found 12 people living on the street in Imperial Beach. But others think the numbers are larger. "We have seen a rampant runaway of camping," said Councilmember West.
The council authorized staff to look into regulations for camping at the beach, parks, pier ,and pier plaza at a meeting in June 2018. That led to the same ban in those areas, where the marine safety department found problems with visibility into and beyond the tents that regularly crowd the beaches, hampering police and lifeguards.
"Go down there on a busy day, you'll see hundreds and hundreds of canopies and tents," said Marine Safety Chief Stabenow.
Most agencies in San Diego have regulations for this, to allow a clear view, he said. So one change was that any tent must have two open sides to see in. Sleeping or camping was banned from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. for parks and other public facilities and from sunset to 7:00 a.m. for beach areas.
The new ordinance for all other public areas doesn't state the hours sleeping is forbidden.
Even if the law isn't strictly enforced against the homeless, it could bring lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that cities can't prosecute people for sleeping in public when shelter beds are lacking, calling it "cruel and unusual punishment."
The case, which began in Boise, Idaho affects all of the Western states. Boise has petitioned to overturn the ruling and California cities, including Los Angeles and Sacramento, are joining them. Cities point to San Diego's hepatitis A outbreak to support the need for bans.
Councilmember Paloma Aguirre brought up the outbreak at an earlier meeting, saying her biggest fear is that "because of homeless encampments," Imperial Beach could face a situation similar to San Diego's – a huge hepatitis A crisis "related to unsanitary conditions."