Should people be allowed to sleep in their cars? Should bicyclists and pedestrians be able to sue people who harass or assault them?

City and county bureaucrats are considering ordinances that would allow both.

A Santa Rosa woman has filed suit over local laws that prevent people from sleeping in their cars. Hollie Clausen visited India in 2012 and was so struck by the level of homelessness on the Asian subcontinent that when she returned, she sued the county and the city of Santa Rosa to stop policies she said unfairly affect the poor.

“In India, there’s millions of people everywhere, and they have nowhere to go,” Clausen said. “We should be lucky enough that people may have that one last possession, their car.”

Santa Rosa’s “camping ban,” on the books since 1994, prohibits people from occupying vehicles for more than two hours within the city limits. The county’s law dates back to 2002 and has a three-hour limit.

Clausen said state vehicle code doesn’t prohibit the activity, so local laws can’t ban it. She also called the policies unconstitutional because they prevent homeless people from being free to remain in one place that is safe for them. Supporters of the existing law say it limits what they consider trespassing and loitering in neighborhoods.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Council are reviewing their options and could consider changes in the next few months. Read the full story HERE.

The “vulnerable user” ordinance, which was approved by the Santa Rosa City Council Tuesday night, makes it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to sue people who harass or attack them. It has already been adopted by Sonoma County and Sebastopol, and was rejected by Windsor and Healdsburg. Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, describes it as a way to address and deter dangerous behavior.

“It’s not someone being rude to someone else, or giving a one-finger salute, or even honking a horn,” he said. “It’s where someone is intending to hurt or intimidate another person.”

He told Press Democrat Reporter Clark Mason that the Coalition logged more than 160 reports of bicycle rider harassment between 2006 and 2012, about half of which were believed to be actual harassment. Read more about it HERE.


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