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.


Send your questions for the Road Warrior to Linda.Castrone@Pressdemocrat.com.


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  1. G

    Were any of these 160+ reports of harassment looked into or investigated? Or can anyone come in off the street and make a claim that they were harassed with no evidence?

    July 10th, 2013 7:26 am

  2. jeff

    Regarding sleeping in cars: “Clausen said state vehicle code doesn’t prohibit the activity, so local laws can’t ban it”

    Wouldn’t this also apply to the vulnerable user ordinance? The state’s vehicle code should prevail, not special interests.

    July 10th, 2013 8:23 am

  3. Kim

    I have nothing against people sleeping in their cars, except where do they go to the bathroom?

    July 10th, 2013 8:37 am

  4. PB

    This is simple: If people want to car camp, allow them to use a designated parking lot during off-business hours.

    With respect to the state not having a ban, that argument could be applied to everything from casinos and card rooms to medical cannabis dispensaries. Cities are generally permitted to set community standards.

    July 10th, 2013 9:40 am

  5. Ken

    Kim, they “go to the bathroom” in your bushes.

    July 10th, 2013 9:50 am

  6. Tone

    Just sleep in Walmart parking lots!!!!!!!!!!

    July 10th, 2013 10:25 am

  7. jeff

    PB, I almost used cannabis dispensaries as an example. Federal law trumps state law by way of conflict. There appears to be a similar conflict between state law and local ordinance. One says do it, without placing a time limit, the other says no by way of an arbitrary time limit.

    July 10th, 2013 10:27 am

  8. TP

    State vehicle code “not banning” car camping is not the same as “protecting” it. If it were protected by state law, local laws couldn’t violate it. If it’s simply “not banned” local governments can pass whatever law they want regarding it.

    July 10th, 2013 11:07 am

  9. Kim

    I realize that. My point being if they want to let people sleep in cars, they need to make a designated parking lot with port-a-potties.

    July 10th, 2013 12:30 pm

  10. Cassie

    Bicyclists should be required to carry insurance just as any other vehicle using the road is required to carry insurance!

    July 26th, 2013 12:32 pm

  11. Bradley

    I agree with Cassie. If a bicyclist causes an accident with a car what or who’s insurance will pay?

    August 1st, 2013 4:22 pm

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