Walk On Wild Side

He asks why city lets tents block pedestrians

Guest Opinion
By Nick Kufasimes
August 2022

Do you ever wonder why our local authorities allow homeless camps on city sidewalks underneath freeways? Why tents can block pedestrians, including elderly and disabled people, parents with strollers and children trying to walk to school?

With these questions in mind, I contacted City Council member Katie Valenzuela, whose district includes Midtown and Downtown. She said sidewalks under freeways are state property controlled by CalTrans, and there’s nothing the city can do about homeless camps blocking those sidewalks.

I contacted CalTrans. They told me the opposite—that sidewalks under freeways are city property, and there’s nothing CalTrans can do about camps blocking the way.

Last December, our neighborhood held a meeting at 30th and C streets to discuss the homeless camp there and crimes committed by people living in the camp. We invited our local representatives.

A member of the city manager’s staff joined us to answer questions. When we asked about homeless camps blocking sidewalks under the freeway, he said camps can’t be moved due to an opinion by the city attorney.

He told us the city attorney’s interpretation of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Martin v. Boise, prevents the city from moving homeless camps from sidewalks, even if they block pedestrians.

I read the Martin case multiple times and couldn’t find where it supersedes ADA guidelines, which require a clear path at least 36 inches wide. I didn’t see where Martin allows camps to block city sidewalks.

In Sacramento, city code specifies sidewalks must be at least 6 feet wide to accommodate pedestrians. Blocking a sidewalk is a crime, an infraction. But apparently, infractions are no longer enforced in Sacramento.

On a recent walk Downtown, I saw police officers politely ask a homeless person to remove a tent from private property. I asked the officers why they didn’t request homeless people to move tents from public sidewalks.

The officers told me the city was being sued by a homeless advocacy group and police were told by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Valenzuela not to remove tents from public sidewalks. I wondered, could this be true?

Our city charter prohibits elected officials from interfering with police business. Only the city manager can discuss policy with police administration.

City Council member Jeff Harris recently introduced an amendment to the city’s “sidewalk ordinance.” The amendment would require a 4-foot clearance and make it a misdemeanor if the obstruction isn’t removed. The council is likely to vote on the sidewalk amendment this summer.

As a taxpayer and property owner concerned about safety in my neighborhood and city, I am sick and tired of watching the obvious disregard for laws at homeless camps. Each day I walk under freeways and past homeless camps, where I see garbage illegally dumped, prostitution, drug dealing, drug use and inhumane living conditions.

We live in a rich state. Our city spends millions of dollars on homelessness. And these individuals need help! I am frustrated by how local representatives, including the mayor and City Council members, city manager, city attorney and police department, are not on the same page.

There are federal ADA guidelines and city codes. Why aren’t they being enforced? Can some city official please provide an accurate answer? Where are the ADA advocates? When did it become normal for homeless camps to take over city sidewalks and prevent neighbors from walking freely and feeling safe?

Nick Kufasimes is a lifelong East Sacramento resident and vice president of the East Sacramento Community Association. He can be reached at runsforhealth@gmail.com.

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