HAYWARD -- Sleeping overnight on city property will soon be illegal.
Until now, city rules had been silent on whether people could -- or could not -- camp out in a sleeping bag overnight at City Hall Plaza, on city sidewalks or at other city-owned sites. The new ban is part of the City Council's priority of making downtown Hayward safe, a city spokesman said.
"This ordinance isn't intended to criminalize the homeless but to set up guidelines on how these city-owned properties are used," Frank Holland said.
The ordinance, approved by the City Council on Tuesday, prohibits camping and stashing of sleeping bags, tents and other personal property on city property. Fines start at $100 for the first offense, going up to $500. The target is not individuals but encampments, Holland said.
The intent is to act before problems such as an Occupy movement crop up, City Manager Fran David told the City Council on Tuesday.
But speakers at the council meeting called the ordinance heartless.
"What we are trying to do in Hayward is hide our poor and homeless so they can die someplace out of sight," said Hayward resident Silvia Brandon-Perez, who is on the board of South Hayward Parish, an interfaith nonprofit that runs a food pantry and provides other services to low-income residents.
Councilman Mark Salinas said he understood her point, but the ordinance will help ensure a sanitary standard. "It's about making sure that parks and even the places that we don't see every day, like the creek beds, are clean and safe," he said.
Salinas pointed out that Berkeley, which he said was progressive when it comes to the homeless, passed a similar ordinance.
Other cities that restrict camping in some form include Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton and San Jose, according to the city staff report. Hayward Area Recreation and Park District prohibits overnight camping at its sites except during events it sponsors.
Other cities with similar problems as Hayward's have come up with creative solutions, a homeless advocate said before Tuesday's meeting.
"Fontana used existing resources in collaborative ways, without any increase in funding, and saw a 50 percent reduction in community complaints," said Sara Lamnin, executive director of Community Action Network, which works to get homeless people job training and housing.
Police in that Southern California city worked with faith groups and nonprofit agencies to open a referral center that provides restrooms, showers, clothing and food and connects them with programs to help get them off the streets.
"They had over a 90 percent participation rate for people who were hungry or homeless," Lamnin said.
The city is not heartless, said Councilwoman Barbara Halliday. The city does a great deal to help them, she said, but homeless people leave messes on city property.
"This is not out of mean-spiritedness; this is out of our desire to make the quality of life for all our residents to be what they deserve," she said.
Councilman Francisco Zermeño was the lone vote against the ban.
"I voted for the feeding ordinance, but this is going overboard," he said.
Last winter, Hayward strictly limited outdoor feeding on city property, effectively ending food handouts at places such as Portuguese Centennial Park in downtown. The rules require those distributing food to get permits, training and insurance and allows one food handout a month at any city site.
No one has applied for a permit since the regulations began in December, said David Korth, the city's neighborhood services manager.
Before, food was distributed outdoors almost daily to 50 to 100 people in downtown Hayward, according to city estimates.
Lamnin questioned the lack of community involvement in drafting the camping ordinance before it was approved. No meetings were held, and the only notification was the staff report sent Friday with the City Council's meeting agenda.
"We were disappointed in the process," Lamnin said. "We understand that there are many things that need to be worked on in Hayward, but to have things done in different pieces like this without an overall strategy makes it challenging."
The council approved the ordinance on a 6-1 vote. It comes back for a final reading April 15 and would take effect in May.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473, or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.