Camping Ordinance Approved by Ashland City Council 4-2 on First Reading

Camping Ordinance Approved 4-2 on First Reading
12/5/23

 

By David Runkel

 

On a four to two vote, City Council last night gave first reading approval to a rewrite of the city’s camping regulations which would ban camping within 250 feet of schools, child care centers, city parks with playgrounds, shelters and near I-5 Interchange 14. 

 

The vote came near the conclusion of a contentious, three-hour debate on various aspects of the proposed new law by councilors, Mayor Tonya Graham, numerous citizens and city attorney Douglas McGeary, principal author of the ordinance.  

 

Councilor Paula Hyatt made the motion to approve which had the support of Councilors Dylan Bloom, Gina DuQuenne and Jeff Dahle.  Voting no were Councilors Bob Kaplan and Eric Hansen. Kaplan argued for tabling the proposal.  “We need to do planning first and then go forth.  We need to do this right. ” 

 

Hansen said there was “a good reason for moving slowly. This would be hard to undo.”  Also opposing were several homeless people and their advocates, along with former councilor Dennis Slattery, who is now chair of the board of Opportunities for Housing, Resources and Assistance (OHRA), which operates a 52-room homeless shelter in the 2300 block of Ashland street and the city’s new 32-cot shelter in the 2200 block of Ashland Street.

 

“The proposed ordinance is not ready for prime time,” Slattery contended, adding that he believes there has not been an adequate planning process and no agreement among lawyers on the draft new law..

 

McGeary has repeatedly told Council the draft ordinance was written to comport with state law and federal court rulings on the Constitutional rights of people who are homeless.  Those rules have restricted local governments from imposing some camping restrictions and policing campgrounds.

 

Councilor Hyatt argued that problems with the city’s current law make it necessary “to move forward.” Ashland has partially suspended the enforcement of the ordinance that prohibits camping on public property.
“The suspension remains in effect until the city has fully implemented the requirements mandated by federal case law and these certain protective measures mandated by the state,” McGeary  said.

 

Bloom, who had earlier proposed doubling the exclusionary zone to match Medford’s recently enacted camping law, said “it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.”  Dahle argued that “if the legal team has it ready, go forth.”

 

A second reading of the new ordinance could come up at the next Council meeting, Dec. 19.  Tuesday’s meeting was frequently interrupted by audience reaction to comments being made, leading Mayor Graham to urge people to refrain from making hand motions and laughing.

 

Subsequent to the vote, Council unanimously directed the 11-member Housing and Human Services Advisory Committee, or a subcommittee to be named, to come up with a recommended master plan for implementation of the law.
Other restrictive provisions of the new ordinance are:

 

– No use of fire or gas stoves.
– Camping areas cannot exceed 100 square feet.
– No camping is allowed on sidewalks, bike paths or walk-way.
– No camping is allowed within 100 yards of other campsites.
– No camping is allowed within 100 yards of any river, stream, fence, trees, buildings or vehicles.

 

Campsites subject to immediate removal include those where there is evidence of criminal activity or when possible site contamination is found involving hazardous materials, there is a public health emergency, a fire hazard or “other immediate danger to human life or safety.”

 

Vehicle camping is limited to 24 hours in one site that is more than 100 feet away from any residence.  Structures and tents cannot be attached to vehicles.  There are also provisions restricting pets; prohibiting dumping of gray and black water into storm drains; and prohibiting leaving behind garbage, debris, unsanitary hazardous materials in public rights of way, city property or adjacent public or private property.
The current ban on camping in any part of Lithia Park is continued in the new ordinance. 

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