While a crowd of concerned citizens looks on, local business owner Rudy Valentine asks the Susanville City Council what it’s doing to stop the crime, tweakers and the homeless wreaking havoc in the city. The council said it would agendize this item for every meeting in the future to allow an exchange between councilmembers and the citizens. Photo by Sam Williams

Administrator’s comments ignite controversy

Last October, the Susanville City Council passed an ordinance seeking to regulate camping along the Susan River.

Last Wednesday, a crowd of concerned citizens attended the Susanville City Council’s Wednesday, Jan. 15 meeting to address the council regarding crime and homeless issues, demanding to find out what was being done by the city to address these problems.

When a citizen asked how many citations had been issued for violating the ordinance, Mike Wilson, city administrator, didn’t answer that question, Instead he offered this strong response.

“I will share this with you,” Wilson said. “I had a discussion with the elected district attorney of this county and said, will you enforce our ordinance when we create this ordinance for camping within 100 feet of city properties, city parks or the river, and she said, nope, I’m not going to enforce that … I do have an attorney here. We’re going to pay our attorney to enforce those ordinances. And so because the DA won’t do that, we’re going to spend city money to go in there and take it to court and say, yeah, we want to enforce that. I want to make sure everybody understands we’re following through. There are organizations and individuals that aren’t.”

Susan Rios, Lassen County’s district attorney, responded to the newspaper’s inquiry regarding Wilson’s comments.

“I met with Mr. Wilson and Ms. Ryan on or about Nov. 14, 2019 regarding enforcement of the camping ordinance and at that time it was discussed and decided that the city would handle the violations administratively as they do a number of other types of ordinance violations,” Rios said. “Therefore, I am uncertain why, and find it unfortunate that, he would make a statement that our office has ‘refused’ to prosecute — when to date, we have never been presented with a single citation for a violation to review. In fact, the ordinance was enacted without any input from this office and the city’s own attorney has expressed a viewpoint regarding the unconstitutionality of the criminal enforcement of an ordinance like this. I share the community’s concern, passion, and frustration on this topic; most of the ‘camping’ is occurring right behind my office. Our agencies need to be working together to find viable, legal, and cost-effective approaches to getting a grip on this situation — not simply passing the buck to the department that was not asked to be present at the table.”

The newspaper’s efforts to obtain a response from Wilson regarding the district attorney’s comments proved unsuccessful.