For Immediate Release
Sonoma County gives initial approval to ordinance restricting camping on public property
Santa Rosa, CA | April 04, 2023
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today approved a first reading of an amended ordinance limiting camping in public spaces including during daytime hours. The amendments bring Sonoma County’s existing camping ordinance into compliance with recent legal decisions concerning overnight camping while still providing the county options to discourage permanent housing encampments, prevent garbage buildup and address public health issues.
“This ordinance is just one of the many things we are doing to address homelessness in Sonoma County,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “We recognize the fundamental right to have a place to sleep if you have nowhere else to go. At the same time, we need to balance the needs of the unhoused with the health and safety concerns that these prolonged, unsanctioned encampments create for unhoused individuals and their impacts on the wider community.”
The ordinance will assist county staff in regulating encampments on county-owned property and other public property in unincorporated areas. The county last month opened an emergency shelter site at the County Government Center campus, creating a new source of temporary housing for unsheltered individuals camped along Joe Rodota Trail and other public places.
The amendments, which will be adopted upon a second reading scheduled for April 18, prohibit camping on public property daily between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. They also prohibit camping on or near certain types of properties that are particularly sensitive or inconsistent with such a use, including:
- Inside public buildings, fenced areas attached to public buildings, or within 25 feet of an entrance to a public building
- Within 50 feet of a residence
- Within 100 feet of a playground, school, daycare, or other licensed childcare facility
- Within any county park
- Within any public highway, road, or street
- Within any public right-of-way, where the camping obstructs the free passage of persons, bicycles, or vehicles
- Within a “Very High Fire Severity Zone” as determined by the State Fire Marshall or local agency
- Within 150 feet of the high water mark of the waters of the state or within any area designated as a Regulatory Floodway on the FEMA maps
- Within 25 feet of a facility that provides shelter, safe sleeping, or safe parking to homeless persons, or that serves as a homeless services navigation center
The county is amending its camping ordinance as case law continues to evolve. The amended ordinance complies with Martin v. City of Boise, a 2019 appellate court ruling that recognized the fundamental right for unsheltered individuals to sleep in public when shelter is not otherwise available. The ruling restricts a jurisdiction’s ability to prohibit overnight camping when other shelter options are unavailable, but specifically recognizes a local jurisdiction’s ability to impose reasonable restrictions on when and where people can camp on public property when shelter is not otherwise available.
Matt Brown, Communications Specialist
575 Administration Drive, Suite 104A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403