Dinuba seeks to limit homeless activity in parks

(Kenny Goodman)

City of Dinuba proposes a new park ordinance that attempts to restrict homeless residents from unauthorized activities on or near public property

DINUBA – Dinuba City Council is on track to voting on an ordinance that – if passed – will further restrict what activities are permitted in and near city parks, including overnight camping, use of water and overnight parking.

The council will have a second reading of the ordinance on June 27 or at a later date. At that time, the council may vote to adopt the ordinance.

At the latest city council meeting on June 13, City Attorney David Yanez presented the council with Ordinance No. 2023-05, “Unauthorized Encampments and Prohibited Activities on Public Property.” This ordinance is the successor legislation to Urgency Ordinance No. 2023-04, “Prohibited Activities in Public Parks and Recreational Facilities,” which the council adopted last month.

A homeless Dinuba resident named David, who has lived in the city all of his life, said he was unaware of the city’s plans to change how people can utilize the parks. He said this in an interview with Mid Valley Times as he, and a few other homeless individuals, were hanging out in Rose Ann Vuich Park recently.

“It won’t make a difference,” David said about the ordinance change. “People will still end up in the cuts.”

David defined “the cuts” as abandoned properties at the edges of the city.

“The (Dinuba) police force us out there, so (we’re) not their problem anymore,” he added.

While neither ordinance specifically cites the city’s burgeoning homeless population as the impetus behind the legislation, council members were quite explicit at their May 23 meeting that something had to be done about homeless encampments cropping up in city parks. Councilmembers Kuldip Thusu and Linda Launer spoke of homeless encampments at various locations in the city.

“They use the fountains at Pavilions to bathe,” Laurner said at the prior meeting. “The gal even colors her hair there.”

A new provision in the proposed ordinance specifically addresses the use of sinks or hydrants “to bathe or for cosmetic purposes such as coloring one’s hair.”

When the council discussed the urgency ordinance at its May meeting, it was apparent the ordinance left open too many loopholes to be effective. One of these loopholes pertained to individuals parking vehicles overnight in park car parking lots and along the streets adjacent to parks. The city’s municipal code contains provisions pertaining to overnight parking; the new ordinance further clarifies what is permissible.

In addition to proscriptions related to water use, the new ordinance contains specific encampment abatement procedures. If the council adopts the ordinance, the city will have the ability to give 24-hour notice – or 3-hour notice in extreme cases – for, essentially, evicting individuals remaining in the park from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

The new ordinance keeps many of the provisions already found in the urgency ordinance. One such carry-over pertains to available shelter. As with the prior ordinance, the new ordinance notes that individuals and families will not be cited or be subject to criminal prosecution if there are no shelter beds available.

The ordinance refers to Chapter 9.49.030 of municipal code, “Camping in Parks, Recreation Facilities and Designated Public Property Prohibited.” According to this section, camping is prohibited regardless of the availability of shelter beds if it poses a substantial danger to any person or is a risk to public health. The section also prohibits camping if the encampment is located on any public property.

Last month’s urgency ordinance did not adequately address the fact that the city has no shelter beds. Open Gate Ministries is a private company that can house up to 34 individuals. According to Open Gate’s executive director, the facility is often full. Absent these beds, it is not clear how the Dinuba Police will ascertain if other shelter beds are available or if individuals and families who appear to be exempt from eviction may, in fact, be evicted if they fit any of the categories listed in Chapter 9.49.030.

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