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Friday, January 27, 2023

Teichert Ponds camping enforcement delayed by legal wrangling – Chico Enterprise-Record

CHICO — Enforcement of anti-camping ordinances at Teichert Ponds in Chico resumed Thursday, but only after several delays and what one lawyer said was an explicit refusal by city officials to offer Pallet shelters without the threat of enforcement to people living at the park before winter storms arrived.

From Dec. 21 to Jan. 17, very few if anyone, in Chico living on the streets were admitted to the city’s official shelter spaces — either through the city’s shelter interest waitlist or through anti-camping ordinance enforcement — because the spaces had been reserved for planned enforcement that didn’t begin until Thursday, Jan. 19.

Disagreements between parties of the Warren v. Chico settlement extended the time that Pallet shelters and beds at the Torres Shelter had been reserved for an enforcement planned at Teichert Ponds since Dec. 21.

From that time until Jan. 17, daily shelter availability ranged from 25-30 spaces at the Pallet shelters and 23-26 spaces at the Torres Community Shelter according to Chico’s sheltering provisions webpage.

The city wished to enforce the entire area of Teichert Ponds in December, but did not have an appropriate amount of shelter spaces for everyone living there, according to Cory Turner, staff attorney for Legal Services of Northern California representing plaintiffs in the settlement.

The law firm said it would be willing to discuss with the city about enforcing a smaller area of Teichert Ponds ahead of the winter storms and at the same time strongly encouraged the city to offer shelter and transportation without the threat of enforcement.

But Legal Services of Northern California says Chico explicitly denied the request, saying it would not offer shelter spaces unless it could do so through enforcement of the entire park.

Then, nearly one month later, the city began enforcement Thursday, Jan. 19. for a more limited section of Teichert Ponds.

According to the settlement, if the city wishes to enforce anti-camping ordinances, it may only proceed to remove people and camps from public property if there are an appropriate amount of shelter spaces for people targeted for the enforcement.

The city sent notice Dec. 21 to Legal Services of Northern California that it intended to enforce the entirety of Teichert Ponds, counting 54 people and 52 shelter spaces.

Chico Public Works Director Erik Gustafson said the city believed it would have enough capacity enforcing all of Teichert Ponds and tried to accelerate the process because of the winter storms. He said the city made a special request to LSNC but it was met with an objection and Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman upheld the objection.

“The terms of the settlement agreement are clear, and we understand that, but we were just asking for leeway or … forgiveness, can we move forward, recognizing not everyone will go,” Gustafson said.

LSNC counted at least 62 people and at most 80, and then replied to the city Dec. 27 objecting to their request on the basis that the number of shelter spaces was inadequate for the size of their enforcement.

Cory Turner, staff attorney for LSNC, said his firm at the same time requested the city to decrease the size of their enforcement or to allow people into shelters without the threat of enforcement.

“We offered to discuss a more limited (scope of) enforcement, and at the same time we strongly encouraged the city to immediately offer shelter and transport without the threat of enforcement due to those winter storms that soon resulted in a statewide state of emergency,” Turner said.

Turner said the city is allowed to reserve shelter spaces and not let people come in through the shelter interest waitlist if those spaces are needed for a planned enforcement, for which the city provides LSNC a confidential notice like the one it received on Dec. 21.

On Dec. 28, Turner said the city replied to LSNC explicitly stating it would not offer Pallet shelters to people living in Teichert Ponds unless it could do so through an enforcement action.

On Dec. 29, LSNC and Chico’s city attorney discussed a more limited scope of enforcement, but no city official could weigh in because the office was gone on vacation, Turner said.

LSNC did not receive contact from Chico until the parties met at an informal conference on Jan. 5 when the city asked Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman, who presides over the settlement agreement, to allow it to enforce the entire area of Teichert Ponds.

“Instead of being willing to serve illegal camp notices to a smaller number of people, the city went straight to Magistrate Judge Newman to request enforcement against everyone in Teichert Ponds.” Turner said. “The city never refuted that there were more people than available shelter spaces, which is a clear violation of the settlement agreement.”

The Jan. 5 informal conference resulted in Newman rejecting the city’s request.

After the informal conference, LSNC informed city officials that it could not continue to reserve shelter spaces for an invalid notice and again requested the city to allow people from Teichert Ponds or anywhere else in the city into shelters through non-enforcement methods because of the storms and state of emergency.

The city a few days later told LSNC Jan. 9 that it would resume shelter intakes through non-enforcement methods, only to send a new notice Jan. 10 of its intent to enforce a smaller portion of Teichert Ponds.

Gustafson said the city recognized it didn’t have enough shelter spaces, but initially asked to move forward with confidence that it had enough shelter capacity if taken into account that about 20-30% of people turn down a shelter space based on previous enforcement experience.

The city reasoned that six people were already assessed and turned down a bed at the Torres Community Shelter and that six others identified as couples — who therefore may fit into three Pallet shelters given their consent is provided.

Gustafson said the city was apprehensive to accept LSNC’s request of enforcing a smaller part of Teichert Ponds and declined because the city thought it would be more efficient to do the entire park in one action.

“In this instance, we felt that if we only enforced a portion of Teichert Ponds it would be extremely hard to keep those lines delineated,” Gustafson said. “The objective of course is to get people into a better living situation, but also clean up the public space and clean it up and do it all in one time.”

He said the city felt it would be hard to keep the areas of enforcement delineated from areas that aren’t enforced and may create issues where people may steal from one another or try to move into the enforcement area to receive an assessment they weren’t assigned for.

Gustafson said an enforcement split into smaller sections may also create issues with maintaining a safe work zone as mechanized equipment is used to clean the area — another reason why the city was apprehensive.

With the judge denying the city’s request to enforce the entire park, the city moved forward with sending LSNC a notice to enforce a smaller area of the park.

On Jan. 17, the day enforcement was supposed to begin, LSNC and city officials met to clarify the scope of the smaller area.

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