In its latest attempt to tackle rising homelessness, Milpitas City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance that prohibits individuals from sleeping and setting up tents in public spaces.
The new rule will affect around 120 people who reside in the city, according to estimates by homeless advocates.
The ordinance delivers on a key promise from Mayor Rich Tran, who has said at numerous council meetings and on social media over the past year that he intends to take a tougher approach to combat homelessness in the city of 80,000 people.
It also comes at a time when the stakes are high for most city council members, three in five of whom are vying for the seat of mayor. Vice President Carmen Montano and Councilwoman Evelyn Chua, allies of the mayor, voted with him to approve the camping ordinance, while Anthony Phan voted against and Karina Dominguez abstained. Montano, Phan and Dominguez are all in contention for the top spot in town.
Milpitas’ new ordinance is similar to rules adopted in other Bay Area cities, such as Oakland, San Jose, San Rafael, Novato and Santa Cruz. These rules have satisfied residents’ concerns to varying degrees. In Oakland, a lawsuit is pending from a grassroots group that claims the city isn’t enforcing its ordinance enough.
Housing advocates, however, argue that the laws criminalize homelessness and simply push people from place to place.
“These are extreme ideologies that frankly remind me of the Nazis,” said councilman Dominguez, who has frequently clashed with the mayor over homelessness issues and lobbied for more funding from him. county-led programs that promote hands-on outreach.
Dominguez said she did not agree with the new law and refrained from voting in favor of it because she felt that the council had not received enough information about it during the meeting of tuesday.
But Mayor Tran said he sees the law as part of an overall strategy that will eventually deliver results.
“This order is not going to solve the problem of homelessness,” he said. “Or eliminate the problem. This order must be 100% focused on the public safety of all people, including homeless people.
The Milpitas Rule effectively prohibits sleeping and setting up a tent in most public spaces in the city from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and also covers areas like schools, daycares, parks and libraries.
Violators will first receive a verbal warning and then a 72-hour window to pack up and leave before facing fines of between $50 and $500, as well as possible jail time. Confiscated items will be stored free of charge by the city for 90 days. The order allows violators to perform community service hours instead of paying a fine.
The law also allows the council to impose camping restrictions anywhere in the city that last up to a year and require a separate vote for approval.
Robert Jung, who oversees local nonprofit Hope for the Unhoused, said he was unable to thoroughly review the ordinance but opposed its passage .
“It’s definitely not a positive thing,” Jung said. “That doesn’t get to the heart of solving the problem.”
How to solve homelessness has become a key political issue over the past year in Milpitas, most recently in December when the mayor posted a one-person encampment at the town’s school district headquarters on his Facebook page. with the caption “Coming soon.”
In February, the mayor began advocating for a citywide camping ban, specifically mentioning an encampment of mostly RVs and cars behind the city library that housed a few dozen people and was later disbanded at the time. spring.
The mayor’s more aggressive approach prompted Councilwoman Dominguez to protest the mayor’s proposal by sleeping outside in front of City Hall in her own tent in late February. The councilwoman also took issue with the mayor’s task force on homelessness, created in January 2021, which she said offered ineffective strategies.
The new order will go to council for a second reading on September 14, although the step is procedural and will likely be passed on consent. The ordinances usually take effect 30 days after they are officially passed, which means enforcement of the camping ban could be as early as mid-October.
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