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San Luis Obispo City Council approves ban on tents in parks

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Posted at 6:22 PM, May 09, 2022

The San Luis Obispo City Council last week approved an ordinance to ban the use of tents in city parks.

The ordinance clarifies rules the city already has in place, like prohibiting being in parks after hours and clarifying that tents and similar structures are prohibited encroachments in city parks and are only allowed with permits.

No tents or other structures closed to public view from the outside will be allowed on city property. These are labeled as encroachments which are already prohibited under city code.

That includes highways, alleys, streets, avenues, sidewalks, pathways, plazas, and parks.

"There was a fairly steady and escalating stream when the ordinance was first introduced of adverse behaviors in our parks that were really making people feel unsafe," said Christine Dietrick, San Luis Obispo City Attorney.

These concerns were brought to the council's attention last year but tabled until recently because of concerns from homeless assistance groups.

Last week, the council voted 3-2 in favor of adopting the ordinance.

"This ordinance doesn’t change anything we’ve been doing, it's just to clarify," said Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson.

Before the final vote, community members addressed the council with their thoughts.

"I think it is a disgraceful addition to insult to legislate in a way that facilitates purging them from public areas," said resident Daniel Barrett.

Other residents seconded this sentiment.

"No one wants to do this; it's what they have to do; it's their only option," said resident Ethan G. "Why are we criminalizing this sad sad state of affairs?"

"Clearly we don’t consent," said resident Andrew Chan.

The rebuttal from city staff addressed their concerns but disagreed with the community’s views on the issue.

"Fundamentally, I don’t think staff believes providing tents is a humane way to address homeless issues," said City Manager Derek Johnson. "We need to find people housing and provide services and work on transitioning them out of homelessness."

This ordinance will be enforced 30 days after last Tuesday's vote. Enforcement may include police involvement, but the city will utilize public education as its first line of enforcement.

A violation of the ordinance would be an infraction and may result in a fine but not any jail time.