How Policy is Made?

Interesting look as reported in the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new plan last week to manage natural resources on the American River Parkway — a plan that the director of regional parks said would give the county more flexibility to move homeless people from one part of the parkway to another.

“When asked what shuffling homeless people around will accomplish, Kentral Pierce, who’s lived on the parkway for 10 years and has been relocated multiple times, had a one-word answer:


“As the number of visible encampments along the parkway has increased, the political will to act has also grown, with murky results. In August 2022, the Board of Supervisors formally banned camping along the American River Parkway and designated the area “critical infrastructure.” That ordinance did not require more housing or other services designed to offer people a more comfortable alternative.

“At the Tuesday supervisors meeting, the board again displayed a sense of urgency about homeless encampments on the parkway as it discussed the Natural Resources Management Plan.

“Department of Regional Parks Director Liz Bellas addressed the board and answered questions about the new plan, which prioritizes “elimination or mitigation of the detrimental consequences associated with homeless encampments.”

“Supervisor Phil Serna, who represents District 1 which includes midtown, East Sacramento, North and South Natomas, Del Paso Heights and Oak Park, asked Bellas specifically about how homeless people would be handled under the plan.

“What will the adoption of this plan do to enhance our legal ability to more immediately address the impacts that we’re seeing?” he asked, referring to the consequences of homelessness. “How does this plan fit into the arsenal of tools that we have to compassionately take care of the parkway, of course, simultaneously looking after folks that deserve something other than a tent space on the parkway to shelter in?”

“Hearing this question, Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Coalition to End Homelessness, said, “What I hear is, how can we get around the Martin v. Boise decision?”

“In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case that citing or moving homeless campers when there was no other place for them to go was a form of cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the judges said. Between the city and the county, Sacramento County has about 7,000 more homeless people than it has shelter beds for them to sleep on, and an even worse shortage of stable, affordable housing.

“But at the Board of Supervisors meeting, Bellas said the parkway plan would give the county more ability to cite or move homeless people.

“This document plus our environmental review document has stated, ‘This is something that needs to happen: We need to take care of our natural resources. We need to make sure that we are addressing the impacts of our encampments on the parkway,’” she said. “It could be used to help us defend any questions that might come up on why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

“Serna asked her specifically whether homeless people could be moved from a part of the parkway with “greater habitat value” to a different part of the parkway before, ultimately, moving them into a “more humane shelter situation.”

“Bellas responded: “Absolutely.”

“The plan explicitly raised the issue of the Martin v. Boise case, saying the ruling “prohibits the County from criminally prosecuting people who are sleeping, sitting, or lying outside on public property when those people have no home or shelter available.” The plan also includes “interpretation of the decision” from county counsel, which says that the case law does not mean that people can “indefinitely reside at a single location on public property,” suggesting that the county’s legal attorneys likely agree homeless people can be legally shuffled from one area of the parkway to another, at least under certain circumstances.

“From my perspective as a lawyer, I wouldn’t want to hang my hat on that,” said Eric Tars, the legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, who also served as counsel in the Martin v. Boise case. “I’m sure they’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars with their lawyers coming up with a scheme, rather than actually complying with the spirit of Martin. They’re trying to find ways of doing what Martin says you shouldn’t do by slipping through a loophole.”

“Tars said local politicians can choose to see Martin v. Boise as a constraint on the ability to criminalize homeless people or as an opportunity to marshal political will to create adequate housing. He pointed to Chico specifically.”

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About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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