Shifting the burden to Oroville

Chico’s recently approved ordinance further criminalizes homelessness

With passage of the sweeping and unconsti-tutional anti-homeless statute—the Offenses Against Waterways and Public Property ordinance—Chico seeks to establish itself as Butte County’s privileged “homeless free zone.”

Under this new law, street people are further deprived of the right to sleep on public land (9.50.020), their possessions are subject to seizure under a poorly defined prohibition on “storage” (9.20.050) and private alcoves and entrances to churches and other buildings are now under the control of the police (9.44.018). (Among other issues: a prohibition on the possession of clean needles, which likely will invite the reuse of contaminated needles—a public health disaster.)

According to the U.S. Justice Department, depriving people of access to resting places is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Depriving people of their possessions and subjecting them to unreasonable searches are both violations of the Fourth Amendment. And, how can the city of Chico cite people on private property without a clear violation of trespassing laws—i.e., refusal to leave when requested?

Of course, the goal of this exercise is to further criminalize homelessness and make life on the streets of Chico unbearable. To this end, we cite people multiple times for small offenses like sleeping—aka camping. When the homeless fail to pay fines and fail to appear, they are arrested and incarcerated on warrants. Our present council—Councilwoman Tami Ritter excepted—is willing to shred our civil rights to achieve higher incarceration rates. Why?

The right wing real estate interests and their sympathizers are bent on remaking Chico as Butte County’s more profitable Malibu as they assume Oroville will play the role of South Los Angeles. Oroville already has more than three times the homeless population of Chico; why not drive them all into the south county? In fact, why not literally “drive” them to Butte County Jail—which is within walking distance of Oroville’s downtown?

I wonder if the city of Oroville might consider a class action lawsuit, since that city will be forced to absorb the entire regional burden of homelessness—as the consequences of three decades of Reaganomics are felt on our streets.