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Jeffrey Smith and Deborah Miller warm up in the sun while sitting along Murrieta Boulevard near Stanley Boulevard in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. They said they spent a few cold, wet nights camping out along the Arroyo Mocho. They area homeless now and are hoping to find some shelter soon. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- Despite speakers who called the move "inhumane" and ineffective, the City Council on Monday adopted a law giving the city the power to clear out homeless camps.

Citing threats to public health and safety, especially from camps along the Arroyo Mocho and other waterways -- council members voted 4-1 to adopt an urban camping ban for public lands or private property with a public right of way.

Mayor John Marchand, who proposed the ordinance, said it would give police and the city power to combat increasing problems of solid waste and trash in local waterways.

"This is just going to be another tool that we have," Marchand said. "What I want to be able to do is to be able to lift people out of homelessness. ... What we're doing right now isn't working."

Councilwoman Laureen Turner, who voted against it, argued the ban punishes the homeless without providing alternatives.

"We're like moving chess pieces here," she said. "Compliance means moving, but to where? These people have nowhere else to go."

The city estimates its homeless population is 60 to 80 people, but advocates say it could be triple that.

City officials said the new rule that makes putting up tents or makeshift shelters for camping in public areas a civil infraction -- with $100 fines for first-time offenders -- would be complaint-driven and enforced in "a compassionate fashion." Those who violate the law multiple times could face fines of up to $300, misdemeanors and possible jail time. Camping gear, like tents and sleeping bags, could also be confiscated and stored until they can be recovered by the owners.


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The meeting drew more than 20 speakers, a great majority opposing the rule. Several pleaded with the council to put off a vote in order to consider community-based solutions.

"It makes no sense to me," said Lori Pavich, a Livermore homeless advocate. "You cannot take blankets and sleeping bags away from homeless people. It's inhumane."

City Manager Marc Roberts said citations would be a last resort for those who "willfully refuse" to move. Offenders would be given 24 to 72 hours to collect their belongings prior to any action.

"We would not be hunting folks down," Roberts said. "We would be looking to where we have a problem that is causing implications to the city as a whole, or to neighbors."

Livermore resident Michael Duncan, who frequents the Arroyo Mocho and supports the ordinance, said the area's homeless camps have gotten so bad, he no longer feels safe while walking the trail.

"I can't use it anymore without being accosted," Duncan said. "It's got to stop."

Livermore, along with the greater Tri-Valley, has no permanent shelter for single homeless men. Nick Tynan, a homeless veteran from Livermore, said the lack of services gives many no other option than camping.

"Not every homeless is a nuisance," Tynan said. "Purely policing this problem will not solve anything without active solutions."

Similar ordinances have been adopted by the Livermore parks district, the cities of Dublin, Pleasanton and San Ramon, and the town of Danville.

Livermore's ordinance takes effect March 12, but council members agreed no citations will be given until a "homeless summit," which Marchand is organizing with local and federal agencies, is convened.

Council members will meet Feb. 24 to consider a plan to implement the new law. The proposed homeless summit will be scheduled by March 10.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.