City closer to banning camping

Council moves to expand rules prohibiting sitting, lying on sidewalks; busking OK

Staff writerDecember 12, 2012 

One week after not taking action on an emergency ban on camping outside of City Hall, the Olympia City Council moved toward banning camping on any city property and expanding rules banning sitting and lying on sidewalks.

The council didn’t vote on the changes, but referred the matter to City Attorney Tom Morrill to draw up ordinances on camping and sidewalk use that could be passed as early as next Tuesday’s meeting and go into effect in 30 days.

The majority of the council gave direction that includes:

 • Ban sitting and lying on the entire length of sidewalks downtown, not just the 6-foot area from the edge of a building, as is the case now.

 • Change the time that people aren’t allowed to sit and lie on sidewalks to 7 a.m. to 12 a.m., from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. now.

 • Change the process for enforcing the sit/lie ordinance so that the first step “is education,” and the second step is a warning, prior to a citation being issued.

 • Ban camping and building camping structures on all city-owned property and public space that is designated as “parklets.”

 • Provide definition of camping and building camping structures.

 • Allow camping on city property for special events and other temporary uses.

 • Repeal an ordinance restricting “busking,” otherwise known as activity by street performers.

The council’s land-use committee considered the issue Thursday, and came up with a number of proposed changes to city ordinances:

The suggestions came in the wake of camping in front of City Hall, which has attracted dozens of people in recent weeks. City Manager Steve Hall asked the council on Dec. 4 to ban camping immediately, citing drug use, urine and feces left next to the building and an assortment of trash.

But the council was split on the issue, and didn’t pass the ban. Instead, they agreed to consider a more comprehensive approach for downtown, not just City Hall.

Homeless people and advocates spoke out against the changes. Phil Owen, the program director of SideWalk, a homeless intake center in Olympia, said moving people out of downtown is a sort of wack-a-mole game, meaning homeless people will pop up somewhere else.

“Enforcement-sided approaches to homelessness don’t work,” he said.

“If the the city kind of continues to pursue this path … it’s just going to push them to another location, maybe on private doorsteps.”

Jeff Trinin, owner of Always Safe & Lock and a member of the Olympia Downtown Association, said he favored the city’s proposed changes to the sit/lie ordinance. He suggested going further, imposing a 24-hour ban on sitting and lying on sidewalks.

Councilman Steve Langer advocated for the changes, saying that it’s a safety issue when people are blocking entrances affecting people walking out of restaurants and theaters. It’s also unsafe, he said, for people to be right next to the curb, where people leave their cars.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, and council members Julie Hankins and Nathaniel Jones spoke in favor. Councilwoman Jeannine Roe was absent.

Councilman Jim Cooper said he would oppose any ordinance except the repeal on the busking ordinance. He said the city should have an official public hearing before moving forward.

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