Nevada City tightens up illegal camping ban | TheUnion.com

Nevada City tightens up illegal camping ban

Nevada City council members agreed to a change in its illegal camping ordinance that they say will make it easier to prosecute offenders.

The ordinance currently reads that is unlawful for any person to camp overnight on public property in Nevada City without advance notice to, and written approval from, the Nevada City Police Department — or on any private property without first obtaining permission of the owner and making adequate arrangements to assure sanitary conditions and proper waste disposal.

The ordinance also applies to car camping.

Campers can be fined up to $100 for a first violation, up to $200 for the second violation, and up to $500 for a third offense within a year. Offenders can then be charged with misdemeanors for any subsequent violations within a 12-month period.

But the camping prohibition for private property does not specifically require that the owner's permission be in writing. In at least one case, Nevada City Police Lt. Chad Ellis said, an attempt to enforce the ban was thrown out in court because the judge found the police could not prove the defendant did not obtain permission from the owner.

The requested language change requires campers to provide evidence of written permission from the land owner.

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According to Ellis, Nevada City Police officers issues camping citations almost daily, mostly to repeat offenders. In response to a question from council member Reinette Senum, he said it is almost evenly split between locals and transients from out of town.

'CRIMINALIZING MISFORTUNE?'

Several council members at Wednesday's meeting questioned whether continually fining and citing illegal campers actually accomplishes anything.

"It does become a question, though," Senum said. "Where do they go? These are our residents. … We're criminalizing misfortune."

Erin Minett agreed, saying, "These used to be our residents, and we're punishing them" for losing their homes.

"I get that this makes your job easier," she told Ellis. "But what happens if they can't pay the fines?"

Ellis said that if a person has four repeat violations, they can be taken into custody. He noted, too, that the police department was tasked with addressing quality of life violations and added that the ordinance also protects private property owners.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.