San Clemente’s anti-camping ordinance aims to prevent wildfires

San Clemente’s anti-camping ordinance aims to prevent wildfires

07 February 2018

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San Clemente is enacting an anti-camping law aimed at preventing homeless encampments from starting potentially devastating wildfires.

The ordinance, introduced Tuesday, Feb. 6, by a 4-0 vote of the City Council, prohibits occupying camp facilities or using camp paraphernalia on public property or on privately owned open space on which camping is prohibited.

It also bans camping in designated high-risk fire areas.

An accompanying resolution adopted by the City Council provides procedures and protections for the owners of personal property that may be removed or impounded on city property or on private high-risk open space. The rule says that non-essential property may be removed at any time, while essential property requires 24 hours’ notice.

The city cites recent California wildfires started in homeless encampments and the fact that San Clemente has an extensive interface of homes and open spaces that pose high fire risk.

“The city has experienced a growing number of encampments established in public and private open space,” a city staff report said. “Fires used for cooking and heating in these encampments present an exceptionally high risk of fires in those areas and in adjacent neighborhoods. Several recent wildland fires in similar areas throughout the state were found to have originated in similar encampments.”

City Attorney Scott Smith said that in December alone, five California wildfires were attributed to encampments.

“This gives some abilities and some actual tools to our deputies to be able to act on when there is a fire hazard, to eliminate the problem without having to worry about going through a long, drawn-out procedure,” Councilman Steven Swartz said.

Local resident John Kopp showed the City Council aerial photos of encampments and encampment sites recently cleared out on open lands along the Avenida Pico corridor. There was even what appeared to be an underground bunker.

“You can hardly see these places,” Kopp said. “They are defined by the trails. And there happens to be a ton of shopping carts all over this trail.”

Swartz said he has seen photos on social media of shopping carts used as a cooking grill – “open flames with a shopping cart tipped over it and cooking on top of the shopping cart.”

The City Council introduced a second ordinance Feb. 6, tightening definitions in the city’s codes relating to public peace, morals, welfare and decency.

Smith said city codes contained certain listings of disorderly conduct that can no longer be criminalized. The new, revised codes remove vague language and insert definitions of situations that may constitute offenses.

“I’m very grateful for this ordinance cleanup,” Mayor Tim Brown said.

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