The unsightliness of people camping out in broken-down vehicles in commercial parking lots along Hatch Road has one Ceres resident calling for swift city action.
John Warren addressed the Ceres City Council Monday evening and said the problem of homeless persons camping out on the south side of Hatch Road has “gotten out of control.”
He provided the council with photos taken the week of Oct. 11-17 showing a dirty motorhome in the parking lot west of the Wendy’s restaurant surrounded by several shopping carts filled with junk and two other junky cars parked next to it. One of the vehicles was on a jack for repairs on a wheel.
“While I was taking photos on the 16th a Ceres Police car drove by the area,” said Warren. “There were four or five vehicles camping and cooking on tailgates of their vehicles close by.” The retired California Highway Patrol officer asked the council to take up the matter of enforcement, saying “the city cannot allow this type of behavior.”
Warren said he would like to see the businesses and property owners hire security patrol of their parking lots and business to prevent shoplifting, loitering, and soliciting of money from customers. He also said the Hatch Road corridor doesn’t have adequate or consistent signage to warn against loitering as found in other centers which don’t have a problem with camping.
“I would have thought these issues would have been addressed long ago with property development and maybe when in planning stages, so when opened for business all of the proper signs would be in place,” Warren wrote to city officials. He called on the city to meet with the property owners to get the proper signage posted. He also suggested the city begin towing off inoperable vehicles.
Ceres City Manager Tom Westbrook said he’s having the city planner look into the Ceres Municipal Code to see what provisions could affect the city’s ability to crack down on camping. He said the city’s code enforcement team is speaking to shopping center owners to see about posting signs prohibiting loitering so the police “can move the folks along.”
Westbrook said the parking lots are on private property which can be taken care of by the owners.
“A property owner can go out there and say, ‘Hey this is my property, you’re not permitted to be here if you don’t have business to conduct so move along,’ ” said Westbrook.
He said he checked out the area on Saturday and the blue car that Warren reported was gone.
Westbrook said the “property owners don’t like this either but yet they don’t want to pay for Ontel or another security firm to run through the parking lots.”
He noted that other shopping centers in Ceres which have hired security don’t have the problems experienced on the south side of Hatch Road. Westbrook also added that the problems of unsightly camping scenarios are not unique to Ceres.
“If you drive up and down the 99 you kind of see where these folks have pulled off. It used to be you’d get snowbirds who were traveling to or from the southern part of our nation that would stop overnight or something but these are entirely different. These are not snowbirds.”
Mayor Chris Vierra said the shopping centers on the south side of Hatch Road have multiple owners and that the owners who care don’t receive cooperation from the complacent out-of-town owners.
“It’s not an easy challenge that we have in front of us but I think we all agree that we can’t allow people to be living there,” said Vierra. He wants the city to consider an ordinance forbidding camping in commercial parking lots.
“It’s not a good image and I don’t think it’s very healthy and I believe as one does it then more and more start to do it,” the mayor noted.
He said local homeless shelters are not at capacity and therefore the city can sweep the homeless from parks and public areas.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno played devil’s advocate when suggesting that some traveling vacationers across the country in an RV may want to pull over in a commercial lot to catch some sleep without dragging out lawn chairs or extending awnings.
“I know in Oregon – because when we traveled – we couldn’t find anywhere that would allow us,” said Ryno. “Even at Walmart – who lets everyone stay there – you couldn’t stay because they had a citywide ordinance that prohibited that.”
City Attorney Tom Hallinan said that it may be possible that a camping ban could exempt Walmart parking lots.
“Then it looks like we’re targeting the homeless,” said Ryno, who is not opposed to cracking down on what has been seen recently in Ceres. “I think we really need to look at banning all overnight camping.”