Park Rangers Cannot Enforce No-Camping Ordinance Due to Court Ruling

SACRAMENTO -- The battle against illegal camping on the American River Parkway has gone on for years.

With a recent federal court ruling, the county now has its marching orders.

"Local governments cannot cite or arrest anyone for sleeping outside," said Sacramento County spokeswoman Kim Nava.

It’s an about-face for county park rangers, who have issued nearly 2,000 camping violations just this year.

Jeffrey Utterback loves the bike trail on the parkway. But he says he’s been confronted a number of times by the homeless.

"Schizophrenic type people that are like yelling and cussing in the air. And someone threw something at me one time and then somebody else threatened me with some rocks over by the Sacramento bike trail," Utterback said.

County probation, sheriff’s and police officers routinely monitor activity along the parkway. Just because park rangers are no longer enforcing the no-camping ordinance does not mean they’re not responding to other kinds of illegal activity.

"They are continuing to cite for things like illegal campfires or stray dogs, possession of a shopping cart, things like that," Nava said. "And, of course, they will continue to arrest folks if there is an outstanding warrant for drug possession, public intoxication, anything like that."

Mark Clayton has been trying to get back on his feet after a year of being homeless. He says there is no reason to harass someone who keeps a clean camp.

"As long as it’s legal and it’s clean, not a lot of loitering, hoarders and all that. Just stop doing that and everything will be alright," Clayton said.

But all homeless campers don’t behave the same.

"It’s a safety issue," Utterback said. "I’d rather see these folks get some kind of help."

County officials say they will continue to employ outreach teams and refer the homeless to services that will get them off the parkway.

The Sacramento Police Department is also re-evaluating policy against camping given the court ruling. County officials still want people to report suspicious activity by calling the 311 service number or 911 if there is a crime being committed along the parkway.

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