New city ordinance would impound personal property left alone in public areas

Abbie Leffler, Staff Writer

A new ordinance regarding the storage of personal items on public property is currently under consideration by the City of Santa Barbara. The ordinance states that items left in public space for more than four hours are subject to impoundment. 

The reasons for the removal of personal items cited by the official record of the Ordinance Committee Agenda Report are that the practice of leaving unattended property in public space “threatens the health and safety of residents and visitors … interferes with the safe passage of pedestrians and the disabled … attracts vermin seeking food or refuge, or in extreme cases can be used as a cover for explosive devices or bio-agents.” 

The Committee does admit that “the needs of the public to access … public areas must be balanced with the needs of individuals who have no other alternatives for the storage of personal property,” stating that the intent of the proposed ordinance is “not to criminalize homelessness or to discourage tourism, but rather to maintain the City’s ability to preserve clean, accessible public areas and to address specific safety issues.” 

The ordinance states that there is a ninety-day storage cap for confiscated items before they are disposed of, and that “identification is not required to recover impounded personal property. The owner may claim the property if he or she describes the items or the location of where the property was impounded, or other identifying details.” 

Furthermore, no storage fee would be charged for the storage of personal items in impoundment. There are cases in which notice of impoundment or impoundment itself is circumvented if the items in question are illegal or pose “an immediate threat to the public health or safety.” 

Despite the Committee’s assurances that the ordinance are not meant to “criminalize homelessness”, numerous complaints have been raised that it specifically targets the homeless by forcing them to find alternative storage for their personal items. 

News outlets have given the ordinance such comments like “latest effort to crack down on the homeless” or that it is part of Santa Barbara’s “mission to revitalize its iconic State Street.” “The ordinance is meant to deter transients and homeless people from leaving behind their belongings on the sidewalk, streets, or public landscape,” edhat.com states.

 “The ordinance also includes areas with “immediate impoundment” where signs will state any belongings will be removed within 50 feet,” it continues. “This is suspected to be placed around areas like the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and Sunken Gardens.” 

Advocates for the homeless have also spoken up against the new ordinance: “Not a single mention re the need for a shelter, day-care centers or even, minimally, public storage areas for homeless possessions. Just official and legalized cruelty, harassment and confiscation,” complained Peter Marin, an activist for the homeless. 

However, the ordinance is not in its final stages: it is currently pending review by the full Santa Barbara City Council, and may yet experience revision along the way. The ordinance itself passed its own committee vote by a slim margin: of the three councilmembers on the committee, Kristen Sneddon opposed the ordinance. As reported by edhat: “Sneddon…mentioned the need for a solution to the problem suggesting she’d support the ordinance if a possible daycare center was provided for people to go.” Additionally, Committee Record admits that they were aware of “the issues raised by the community as a whole” concerning the issues it would raise against the homeless. 

This tone makes the prospects of a more people-friendly ordinance more probable, though further news from the Council is forthcoming as of yet.