In an effort to make the community safer, Huntington Beach is proposing a law that would prohibit the storage of personal property on public land.
The law would allow city officials to leave a notice at unaccompanied personal property, giving the owner 24 hours’ notice to remove or dispose of it. If the items are determined to be contaminated or pose a danger to the public, they could be disposed of immediately.
Stored personal property includes tents, bedding, medication, household items, hammocks, luggage, and more, according to a city report.
Huntington Beach Councilmember Mike Posey said the topic was introduced with the idea of public safety in mind.
“It is really an approach by police and the city manager to address abandoned property, or what could be perceived as abandoned property left by anybody, [whether they are homeless or not],” Posey said. “What we want to make sure is that anything that is abandoned doesn’t pose a health hazard to the public at large or even to the person that abandoned the property.”
Personal items left on private property could also be removed, but the property owner would have to submit a complaint about the items before they would be collected.
With the opening of the homeless Navigation Center last November, Huntington Beach officials are now able to enforce anti-encampment laws due to a Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Martin vs. Boise, which said a city cannot “criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors,” if there are no homeless shelters.
If a homeless individual engages in the services of the Navigation Center, they can store their personal property on location there, Posey said.
Along with the immediate removal of hazardous materials, the law would permit officials to remove property without notice if it is deemed to be evidence used in a crime.
The law would also add a criminal statute, where violators could receive an infraction at the discretion of the city attorney or a misdemeanor charge for leaving personal property in public areas.
According to a city staff report for the Feb. 16 council meeting, the city regularly responds to quality-of-life complaints from residents related to the issue.
The report says: “Hypodermic needles and syringes have been discovered among [public] property. Currently, city employees are limited in their ability to remove this property unless it is clearly refuse, or is soiled or otherwise contaminated to the degree that it poses a public health risk.”
Surrounding cities in Orange County have passed similar ordinances, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, Westminster, and Costa Mesa.