The Hollister City Council voted 3-1 on Oct. 5 in a first reading to amend two ordinances on shopping carts and recreational use of parks. Councilman Rolan Resendiz was the dissenting vote on the cart ordinance, while the one on recreational use passed unanimously. The ordinances will come back for a final vote on Oct. 19.
On the surface, it would seem the amendments were meant only to add teeth of enforcement to the two existing ordinances. But it quickly became obvious that shopping carts were only proxies for a much bigger issue: a homeless population that Councilwoman Carol Lenoir described as “having more rights in a park than folks who are not homeless.”
Even as Resendiz pleaded with his colleagues to slow things down and show more compassion, the other council members had reached a tipping point. Lenoir said plainly what the others said indirectly: “It’s time to take the parks back.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez advocated taking a hardline approach against “people who do not want help.” He was not only in favor of confiscating shopping carts, but arresting homeless individuals if they’re found to be drunk in public or committing other crimes, something law enforcement has been reluctant to do because they were often released before the reports were even written, according to Hollister’s interim Police Chief Carlos Reynoso.
Bryan Swanson, development services director, said the ordinance would give the city a tool to remove shopping carts from city parks, sidewalks and other public places. The original ordinance took effect in January 2018, but, according to Swanson, it focused solely on abandoned carts. The amendment would allow for confiscation of all carts being used.
Resident Gina Annotti, who owns two properties on Seventh Street near Dunne Park, said for the past five years there has been an increase of what she described as a “homeless crew” that once they “set up shop, more came” as the word spread that they were being allowed to stay.
“They do drugs and drink alcohol out in the open and they took over Dunne Park,” she said, adding that the police were unable to do much about enforcement. “When you’re having people doing sex in the park, being naked in the park in the middle of the day, and the police come and say all they can do is tell him to leave, they’ll come back and do it again.”
Lenoir said even though she has compassion for the homeless, she also has compassion for those who live near the parks. She said it has never been okay for anyone to drink or have sex in a park.
“I’m not telling the homeless they can’t come to a park, but you come with a blanket and stay on top of it,” she said. “You leave your tarps and your carts and baby strollers out of the park.”
When Lenoir said “it’s time to take our parks back,” Resendiz laughed and asked, “Are we still talking about shopping carts?”
Lenoir responded, “It’s a shopping carts issue because that’s what the homeless put their stuff in and they won’t come to the park if they can’t bring their stuff.”
Resendiz said the council was “opening up a Pandora’s Box” with the ordinance.
“I want to be very careful that we’re not crossing any lines and harassing them,” he said. “Is the [police department] onboard with taking away shopping carts?”
Resendiz suggested the city needed to be more sensitive toward the homeless and perhaps there might be land available to move them to. He said the city should not rush into adopting an ordinance “just to say we’re getting something done.”
“We need to step back and do it in a logical way,” he said. “And we need to include our homeless friends. This is a little too abrasive and I can’t support it at this time.”
Reynoso said a majority of people who live near the parks don’t feel safe. He said the current ordinance does not allow the police to take carts or baby strollers that are “being used to transport materials that are unsafe and unsanitary.” He said the new ordinance would allow the homeless to use the parks, but not store their carts there.
“It’s not our goal to go in there and take every cart,” Reynoso said. “It’s our goal to advise them they cannot have the carts in the parks for safety reasons.”
Resendiz wanted to know what the city was doing to “really give them the solutions they need other than harass them and take away their livelihoods.” He then warned the homeless are an “unstable population and we’re in some unstable times.”
Velazquez responded, “There are homeless who do not want help, will not go to the shelter or participate. Those are the ones who are not entitled to just go around and create problems.”
He said if there is to be a shopping cart ordinance, the city needs to be prepared to pick up the carts and issue citations.
“With the homeless, if you let them set up, it won’t be but two or three days for more to come with more debris and set up a campsite,” he said. “We are here to help those who want it, but those who want to continue doing what they do, we should not tolerate it. The answer is simple: you move to the shelter or you move on.”
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