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Following the latest clearing of a large homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa - Sonoma County passed a set of new rules targeting homeless individuals camping on public property.

Approved April 18th and scheduled to take effect in mid-May, the new ordinance brings the county’s existing rules over public camping in line with the consequential Martin v Boise decision from the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court.

That decision ruled that officials cannot outright penalize individuals for sleeping in public if there are no viable alternatives.

Most notably, Sonoma County’s new rules put limits on when and where homeless individuals can set up camp.

"The ordinance prohibits camping between the hours of 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM," said Matt Brown of the county’s communication team. "The ordinance does specify that camping's prohibited within 150 feet of the high water mark."

Brown said the limitations extend to other sensitive and highly trafficked areas too.

"No camping within 50 feet of a residence, no camping within 100 feet of a playground, school of daycare, or licensed childcare facility within any county park, a public highway or road or street," Brown said.

Violation of the new ordinance can result in a misdemeanor carrying fines up $500 or even jail time.

"Our goal is compliance, not punishment," Brown said. "Probably for a first time offense, people would be issued a, a warning and told to, to vacate. People can be cited if it's persistent, but we really just want people to comply and we'll educate them at first about the rules."

One homeless social services worker called for clarity over where exactly camping is and isn’t allowed within the county, and asked for a map of allowable locations, saying “services can find people if they’re in a location and stable.”

The county has established a sanctioned camping site with access to amenities and services for many of the individuals moved off the Joe Rodota Trail in recent weeks.

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