Social justice activist Dallas Blanchard informed a Superior Court judge on Tuesday that he plans to fight Fresno’s illegal camping ban, saying the new ordinance is unconstitutional because it “criminalizes homeless people based on their poverty status.”
In his trial, Blanchard said he plans to call Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau, who spearheaded the city no-camping ordinance, as his star witness.
“The ordinance is illegal and ill-conceived,” Blanchard, 53, said after his hearing in Fresno County Superior Court, where he faces a misdemeanor charge for violating the city’s ordinance.
“Brandau will be given the opportunity to defend it,” Blanchard said.
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Around 3 a.m. Sept. 30, Blanchard became the first person to be cited under the city’s Unhealthy and Hazardous Camping Act.
Around 3 a.m. on Sept. 30, Blanchard became the first person to be cited under the city’s Unhealthy and Hazardous Camping Act, which was approved by the City Council in late August on a 6-1 vote. Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria cast the no vote.
The ordinance makes camping on public or private property without the owner’s permission illegal and punishable by a $1,000 fine or by up to six months in jail. People camping illegally can have their belongings confiscated and be booked into jail.
A 2017 survey estimated 1,572 people were living without permanent homes in Fresno – an increase of about 20 percent from 2016 numbers.
Police said Blanchard was cited for camping outside Fresno City Hall and refusing to leave on the night the law first took effect.
Blanchard said Tuesday he has been involved in activism for decades, doing such things as handing out hypodermic needles to addicts, under a doctor’s supervision, so they don’t get HIV, and participating in Occupy Fresno protests at Courthouse Park. He said he has a home in Fresno’s Chinatown, but went to City Hall on the night of Sept. 29 with dozens of other people to draw attention to the plight of the homeless.
During the early hours of Sept. 30, he said he decided to take a nap at City Hall because he was tired from protesting the appearance of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who gave a speech in Fresno that night. Blanchard had spent the day near homeless encampments, making sure police were not citing people for illegal camping.
“I believe the city is using it as a tool to harass homeless people,” he said. The ordinance also is cruel, Blanchard said, because “it makes homeless folks move around until they reach a breaking point.”
The ordinance is illegal and ill-conceived.
Activist Dallas Blanchard
On Tuesday, Brandau did not respond to a text message or a telephone call to his office. But in the past he has said the no-camping measure was inspired by complaints received by his office and those of his council colleagues from residents and businesses about nuisances, litter and unsanitary conditions created in their neighborhoods by homeless campers.
Brandau also said the ordinance helps residents and businesses by using the law to leverage homeless campers into the network of social services, from which they can get help.
Blanchard, however, said Brandau and city officials never sought input from the network and county agencies that help the homeless. In his trial, Blanchard said he plans to tell to the jury that the city is wasting taxpayer money and resources.
The date of the trial has not yet been scheduled. Judge Gary Orozco scheduled a status hearing for Feb. 26.
Before his trial, Blanchard said he plans to admit to a misdemeanor vandalism charge for splashing paint on a city street sign on Fulton Street near Tulare Street. He said the latex paint did not damage the sign since it was easily washed off. He also said he didn’t try to hide his identity; he did it without wearing a mask near surveillance cameras.
The ordinance makes camping on public or private property without the owner’s permission illegal and punishable by a $1,000 fine or by up to six months in jail
“I did it because I’m against gentrification,” Blanchard said Tuesday. Gentrification is the process of renovating and improving a run-down area so that it conforms to middle-class tastes. According to Blanchard, the city purposely delayed construction on Fulton Street to put businesses, owned mostly by people out of color, out of business. “The other reason is the city’s constant harassment of homeless people,” he said.
In another act of civil disobedience, Blanchard is suspected of placing an old mattress in a City Hall parking spot reserved for Braudau last month. On the mattress was an effigy of Brandau tucked under a dirty blanket. Written on the mattress in black marker were the words “retweet this,” along with a crudely drawn hand, middle finger extended.
“I’m not going to say whether I did or did not do it,” Blanchard said. “I don’t need any additional cases.”