A new city ordinance that would ban outdoor overnight sleeping in much of Santa Cruz and tightly regulate it elsewhere cleared the Santa Cruz City Council’s initial readthrough this Tuesday, putting it on track to become law two weeks from now.  

“My understanding is this ordinance has the potential to help manage a very difficult situation,” said council member Sonja Brunner. “I don’t have any delusions that this ordinance attempts to address the humanitarian crisis that exists here on the streets in Santa Cruz.”

Its proposal comes a calendar year after council members petitioned city staffers to draft a new ordinance regulating houselessness that would be less susceptible to legal challenge. Previous attempts to regulate houselessness in Santa Cruz, such as the longstanding blanket ban on outdoor camping within city limits, were put to a stop after the 2018 Martin v. Boise ruling, a federal court case that, among other things, bars cities from forcing houseless people to leave their sleeping places on public property unless they provide alternative locations. 

It was on these grounds that the Santa Cruz chapter of the Homeless Union successfully sued the city to stop the clearing of houseless encampments at San Lorenzo Park earlier this year. Alicia Kuhl, President of the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, said that her organization is considering legal action against the city if it were to pass the new ordinance.

“It becomes our only recourse,” Kuhl said. “If we can’t rely on our city officials to make the right decision for us, I guess we have to rely on a judge.”

This most recent ordinance saw a slew of last-hour amendments before its 1 a.m. approval, 5-2, by the council. Amendments included expanding the register of banned sleeping areas to include residential sidewalks, requiring police to issue warnings before citations in enforcing the ordinance, and adding provisions for a city-run safe sleeping program to be established at designated public parking lots. 

This map demarcates the areas banned and bannable by the city manager as outlined in the ordinance, though excludes the residential areas banned and parking lots opened by the amended version. Areas designated “Wildlife Urban Interface” and “FEMA Special Flood Hazard” zones are also temporarily bannable by city emergency response officials depending on seasonal fire and flood conditions.

Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown, the two council members who voted against the ordinance, both said a lack of time to review the amended ordinance and petition the community for comment contributed to their decisions. 

“We don’t even have the full language in front of us this evening, because of the fact that there’s been edits that have been done by staff,” Cummings said, “We’ve been introduced to those edits today, but I personally don’t feel like I’ve had enough time to even look over them to understand what we’re getting ourselves into.”

If the ordinance becomes law, outdoor living defined as living “temporarily in a camp facility or outdoors,” would be prohibited in most of downtown Santa Cruz, the San Lorenzo riverwalk, the city’s residential sidewalks, and all city-owned parks and beaches. Not prohibited would be areas around Santa Cruz’s industrial districts, parts of Harvey West, and areas off the trails of Pogonip and Delaveaga Golf Course — both defined as city “open spaces,” not parks.

Though overnight sleeping would be allowed in these areas, houseless people would be required to pack up their belongings and either store them on their person or at a yet-established city storage facility between 7 a.m. and an hour before sunset. Houseless families and those who are disabled are exempt from this rule.

The location of the city’s storage facility has not been decided, but can be expected to open before the ordinance restrictions are implemented.

With Tuesday’s vote, the city council will revisit the ordinance when it next convenes on Mar. 9. There, members will cast the final vote to decide if the new ordinance becomes law.