August 16, 2023
Temporary Restraining Order Issued by the District Court Temporarily Blocks the City of San Rafael from Enforcing its New Camping Ordinance
On July 17, 2023, the City Council of San Rafael adopted Ordinance 2030 regulating camping on public property to address unregulated encampments in the City. This was an important action taken in response to public health, safety, and welfare concerns associated with the encampments in the City. The unsafe conditions at encampments put both the unhoused and housed communities of San Rafael at risk. The new law was to legally take effect on August 16, 2023.
On August 11, 2023, several unhoused persons living in an encampment along the Mahon Creek Path filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California to challenge the legality of the ordinance. On August 16, 2023, Hon. Trina L. Thompson issued a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) prohibiting the City from enforcing its ordinance until the matter is presented at a preliminary injunction hearing in September. TROs are temporary measures taken by courts to keep the status quo until further judicial review can occur. TROs are frequently issued in court cases involving homeless encampments. The TRO does not mean that the City’s ordinance is unconstitutional or otherwise invalid.
The City believes that Ordinance 2030 is a sound, responsible, and lawful regulation of public property, and intends to vigorously defend its regulation in court. The ordinance does not criminalize homelessness. It allows persons with no alternative shelter to continue to camp in the City, but under reasonable time, place, and manner conditions. The ordinance is intended to restrict the growth of large encampments or “tent cities” by requiring campers to maintain their belongings within a 10-by-10-foot space (or, if more than one person, a 10-by-20-foot space), and to separate their campsites by 200 feet.
The City has committed to taking a phased approach to notice and enforcement, beginning with education and supportive services. Staff with the City’s Homelessness and Housing Division and Police Department have conducted several outreach events and engagements at the City’s three concentrated tent encampments, and more are planned. These events have included explaining the new ordinance, distributing flyers, answering questions, and connecting persons with supportive and transitional services. Social service partners, including St. Vincent de Paul, Ritter Center, Community Action Marin, Spahr Center, and Downtown Streets Team, have participated in these events and offered case management and health care services.
Mayor Kate has provided this comment on the lawsuit and TRO: “San Rafael is committed to helping unhoused individuals move off our streets into permanent supportive housing. Our recent funding of the mobile mental health crisis team as well as approval of affordable housing projects with financing through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund demonstrate the type of meaningful actions needed to address regional homelessness. I am optimistic that the courts will recognize the reality that larger encampments often result in increased calls to the police and fire departments and here in San Rafael, we’ve seen several violent incidents within the larger encampments. We want a safe environment for unhoused individuals until they are able to move into shelter or housing and will continue to seek effective approaches to achieve this objective.”
Over the next few weeks, the City will continue its robust engagement efforts to educate and provide notice to the homeless community about the new ordinance and connect them with supportive services. The City will provide an update as this situation develops.