After widespread community opposition, the implementation of the Temporary Outdoor Living Ordinance (TOLO) was suspended. Instead, city officials will go back to the drawing board to draft a new ordinance, based on four points outlined by the City Council, by May 11.

“It is very clear to me that we have not gotten this right,” Mayor Donna Meyers said in an opening statement before hearing public comments on TOLO during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “I believe we all see value in acknowledging that upfront this early evening, and just reflect that this is a very difficult policy to develop, and that there has been a lot of confusion generated in the efforts so far. I want to apologize to our community for that.”

TOLO’s original language prohibited camping in most areas of Santa Cruz, leaving few areas open for overnight sleeping. Initially passed on March 10, the City Council spent subsequent meetings amending where these zones would be designated. 

Council member Martine Watkins said the intention of these amendments was never to make camping permissible in neighborhoods, but to ensure that the ordinance wouldn’t violate Martin v. Boise, which ruled that absolute camping bans are unconstitutional. 

Originally criticized for being overly punitive to the houseless community, TOLO faced additional backlash from local neighborhoods where sleeping zones were designated, most vocally from the Seabright community.   

In its last iteration, TOLO designated various areas of the Seabright neighborhood as sleeping zones, leading residents to publicly rally against TOLO for three consecutive weekends, prompting Mayor Meyers and Santa Cruz County District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty to address concerns in-person. In response to widespread community opposition to the ordinance, City Council elected to pull the ordinance and start over with the drafting process.  

Third District Supervisor of Santa Cruz County Ryan Coonerty exchanges words with a Seabright resident. Photos by Ryan Loyola and Thomas Sawano.

“I saw the amendments as an effort to really craft something that would work for the entire community. It was getting to a point where there were so many changes to it, that it was a more clean effort to start anew,” said council member Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson. “One of the things that I really heard loud and clear from both sides, is to really start and focus with sheltering services and programming.” 

A motion drafted by Kalantari-Johnson was passed 5-2 that suspends enforcement of TOLO and returns to a new implementation plan with input from community groups. It also creates 150 safe sleeping spots with the involvement of necessary city facilities and parking lots. 

While these first amendments were supported by all seven council members, the motion to proceed faced two dissenting votes from council members Sandy Brown and Justin Cummings, due to their opposition of additional amendments that place restrictions on daytime encampments and enforcement of nighttime prohibition of camping in city areas other than permitted areas.

“I will add that I’m very heartened to be moving forward in this way, but given that the motion includes some things that I’m not comfortable with at this time, I will be voting no,” Brown said during deliberations. “But I absolutely support items one and two, and possibly the others, once other stuff is clarified.”

Kalantari-Johnson said her proposal seeks to find safe, humane, dignified conditions for the unhoused to sleep in while also putting in regulations that will prevent entrenched encampments.

Watkins also added that the city needs state and federal support to address the roots of houselessness. Watkins said this must be supplemented with a willingness to learn from what went wrong with TOLO and try something different, while tackling the issue in a meaningful and compassionate way.

“It’s really just upholding empathy and space for all perspectives,” Watkins said when referring to future strategizing. “Aside from some of the outlying, more extreme perspectives, really holding empathy for the businesses trying to make it right now. For the individuals who are experiencing houselessess for whatever reason. For the families that are worried about their children or their neighborhoods or the real impacts associated sometimes with houseslessness in our community.”