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Costa Mesa council to weigh changes to local anti-camping laws

Costa Mesa Police senior code enforcement officer Mike Brumbaugh makes contact with a homeless woman
A Costa Mesa Police code enforcement officer makes contact with a woman sleeping in a vehicle in Costa Mesa. The City Council is set to consider revisions that would clarify certain aspects of the local prohibitions against sleeping in vehicles and camping on public property.
(File Photo)

As Costa Mesa prepares to resume enforcement of anti-camping laws, the City Council is set to consider revisions that would clarify certain aspects of the local prohibitions against sleeping in motor vehicles and camping on public property.

During their meeting Tuesday, council members will consider whether to forbid sleeping in vehicles parked anywhere in Costa Mesa — save for private residential property — between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Currently, the municipal code stipulates that it is “unlawful for any person to sleep in or on any motor vehicle parked any place in the city at any time,” according to a staff report.

Under the language up for the council’s review, it would be illegal to live in a vehicle — with the exception of campers or the like in authorized areas.

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Regarding camping in public areas, staff proposes expanding the definition of camp paraphernalia to include things like bedding, kitchen utensils and extra clothing and making clear that using or storing such items “is prohibited if done for purposes of living accommodation or habituation,” the staff report states.

These laws have been effectively on hold for roughly a year as a result of both a federal lawsuit filed in January 2018 on behalf of homeless people cleared from a former encampment along the Santa Ana River and a subsequent ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional to prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property when they don’t have access to shelter.

During this time, Costa Mesa’s hands have been tied when it comes to clearing encampments in public spaces — such as local parks.

“This has led to individuals accumulating mounds of personal property that creates a visual blight, impedes the use and access to this public space for others, and increases unsanitary conditions in and around the encampment,” the staff report states. “Vehicles used as encampments have become a similar nuisance.”

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In recent months, Costa Mesa has made rapid progress toward developing a local homeless shelter — and plans to open a temporary, 50-bed facility at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene, 1885 Anaheim Ave., as soon as next week. The city also officially settled the riverbed lawsuit on March 4.

Once that facility is up and running, outreach teams will be able to “offer shelter to interested and eligible homeless individuals … with preference first given to Costa Mesa residents,” according to the staff report.

“For those individuals who are not interested in shelter, are service-resistant ... do not meet established shelter eligibility requirements and/or are dismissed from the shelter program, enforcement for violations will be utilized,” that report continues.

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Costa Mesa Senior Center, 695 W. 19th St.


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