(KTXL) — On Tuesday afternoon, the Sacramento City Council approved several new measures related to the homeless crisis in the city.
The meeting was an hours-long discussion between members and the city manager, as well as many public comments, and it ended with a divided vote of approval.
The item approved by the council involves giving the city manager’s office more power to handle encampment removals and more funds to handle these operations.
This item was brought forward by council members Lisa Kaplan, Rick Jennings and Karina Talamantes, and was passed with a 7-2 vote, with councilmembers Valenzuela and Vang being the only “no” votes.
The updated protocol outlined two key items:
• Give direction to the Sacramento City Manager to enforce provisions of the Sacramento City Code related to encampments at the county courthouse and district attorney’s office, which were added to a list of critical infrastructure that already includes fire stations, police stations, jails, courthouses, schools, hospitals, levees, antennas, bridges, roads, train tracks and drainage systems
• Provide the City Manager with the authority to use any and all appropriate funding within his budgetary authority to carry out the resolution
The hours-long meeting included several questions from council members on how the city manager plans to use his funding, the use of police officers to respond to homeless-related calls and if this will bring change in how homelessness has been enforced in recent years.
Mayor Pro Tem questions city manager’s budgetary freedom
Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan explained how he planned to use this increased budgetary liberty to enforce the city’s ordinances, policies and regulations.
“This also gives me the ability, again from hopefully the majority of this council, to utilize resources that were not available in the past,” Chan said, “That is to use overtime to the extent we can.”
Chan went on to say that there will be millions of extra dollars spent in the budget in order to carry out the wishes of the city council outlined in the homeless protocol.
Later in the meeting councilmember Sean Loloee confirmed that the city’s current budget to address homelessness is around $47 million.
“When we (city council) start micromanaging projects, and we’ve seen it, we continuously hit this concrete wall and spend millions and millions of dollars and then we have to retract and figure out which direction to go,” Loloee said.
Not all council members were comfortable with giving the city manager this budgetary freedom and fear that it could curtail other programs outside of enforcement that address the city’s growing homeless crisis.
“If we are going to be using the majority of our dollars because with this item we are giving our city manager authority to go into our budget for enforcement,” Mayor Pro Tem Mai Vang said. “I am concerned that we are not going to have dollars to provide the critical wrap-around services that are needed at the Safe Ground.”
Valenzuela doubts if increased enforcement is the answer
According to Chan, this updated protocol will provide his office and the several thousand staff members in the city a better direction from the council on how to carry out the current policies and ordinances in place relating to homelessness.
“This gives me clear direction on those things that are already on the books that we can enforce without having to go through the back and forth when we take an action that is consistent with some of the things in this report,” Chan said.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Darrell Steinberg further explained how the increased budget for overtime and the finer direction for Chan’s office will speed up and potentially improve responses to calls regarding homeless encampments.
“It is going to elevate these existing violations of law to priority one,” Steinberg said. “That means that they are going to endeavor to make a more timely effort and a greater effort to resolve them.”
Steinberg said that responding law enforcement or members of the Department of Community Response will seek voluntary compliance first from those unhoused people that are in violation of city regulations.
“That’s what the import of this is, it is a more rapid response,” Steinberg said.
However, the explanations of the intended enforcement procedures did not sound like anything new to council member Katie Valenzuela, who recently saw the homeless sweep at C and 28th streets.
“…I don’t think we would all say that compliance looks like moving you from one non-compliant location to another non-compliant location and starting the clock over again, but that is what is happening to an extent,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela said that she has received calls from businesses complaining of encampments, the encampment is moved and another business in her district is complaining of the same encampment near their business.
“I think the goal here is clarity and I appreciate that because it hasn’t been clear even as a council member sometimes it is not clear how decisions are being made, but I don’t know if we are quite there yet right now,” Valenzuela said.
Police involvement during increased enforcement
Valenzuela also shared her concerns with police officers responding to camping violation-related calls when that could be handled by Department of Community Resource personnel.
“The challenge with those situations is that we don’t know if they are violent or not and I will not send our team out there without law enforcement for some of these things until such time that whatever the call is it’s clear there is not a safety issue,” Chan said.