I love it when a City Council item has the potential to impact another City Council item on the same agenda.
That could happen on Thursday when lawmakers tackle two issues near and dear to many Fresnans.
The first issue is several proposed changes to the rules that govern how the council conducts its public meetings.
The second is a proposed ordinance dealing with the regulation of camping within the city.
In a nutshell, we’re talking about free speech and homelessness.
Council President Clint Olivier and Vice President Esmeralda Soria are pitching what is essentially a housekeeping resolution regarding the Council Rules of Procedure.
The part that caught my attention is: “WHEREAS, Council wishes to amend Rule No. 10 to specify that a speaker’s time may not be transferred, reserved, or combined with another speaker’s time….”
This issue isn’t as unusual at City Hall meetings as you might think.
The council allows members of the audience to speak on action items for a maximum of three minutes. If there are a ton of people signed up to speak, the council president has the discretion to reduce the limit to two minutes.
Sometimes on controversial matters, someone goes to the public microphone and says: “Council President, I want to give my three minutes to my esteemed colleague John Doe, who knows this issue better than anyone.”
If such a transfer were permitted, Mr. Doe would merely need to line up nine friends and he would have an uninterrupted half-hour to enlighten (or harangue) the council.
I once saw a speaker try that ploy on Jaime Holt when she was Planning Commission chairwoman. Your three minutes, Holt said, are not a transferrable commodity.
Council presidents over the years have said pretty much the same thing to speakers who tried that routine. I didn’t realize it, but those council presidents were relying solely on the authority vested in their firm voices. If the Olivier/Soria amendments are approved, the non-transfer edict will rest on firmer ground.
What’s this got to do with the rest of Thursday’s agenda? Well, Council Member Steve Brandau will pitch a new law that could easily attract a big crowd of supporters/critics.
I will quote generously from Brandau’s staff report:
“The attached ordinance will make it unlawful and a public nuisance to camp, occupy camp facilities, or use camp paraphernalia on any public or private property in the City. It is also unlawful to store personal property, including camp paraphernalia, on public or private property. Overnight camping on private residential property by friends or family of the property owner is still allowed, so long as the owner consents and the camping is limited to not more than one consecutive night. Also, the City Manager may issue temporary permits to allow camping on pubic or private property in connection with a special event.
“The streets and public areas within the City should be readily accessible and available to residents and the public at large. The use of these areas for camping purposes or storage of personal property interferes with the rights of others to use the areas for which they were intended.
“Such activity can constitute a public health and safety hazard which adversely impacts neighborhoods and commercial areas. Camping on private property without the consent of the owner, proper sanitary measures and for other than a minimal duration adversely affects private property rights as well as public health, safety, and welfare of the City.
“The purpose of this article is to maintain streets, parks and other public and private areas within the city in a clean, sanitary and accessible condition and to adequately protect the health, safety and public welfare of the community, while recognizing that, subject to reasonable conditions, camping and camp facilities associated with special events can be beneficial to the cultural and educational climate in the City. Nothing in this article is intended to interfere with otherwise lawful and ordinary uses of public or private property.”
Brandau writes that violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor. The City Attorney could institute civil actions to abate the public nuisance.
Anyone who routinely travels the streets of Fresno knows we’ve got a big problem with a certain kind of “camping.” The squalor afflicts every corner of the city.
But how would such a law be enforced to any degree of effectiveness and fairness?
I tried to get hold of the District 2 council member on Sunday. No luck.
I would have settled for three minutes.