Council to consider new camping ban rules

They would prohibit sleeping bags, blankets, cooking equipment, and lying on any sidewalk

Staff writerDecember 18, 2012 

At its last meeting of the year tonight, the Olympia City Council will consider ordinances placing further restrictions on sitting and lying on sidewalks and camping downtown.

The council is considering suspending its rules so that it can pass both ordinances tonight, instead of its normal practice of holding two readings, because it won’t meet again until Jan. 10. The measures would take effect Jan. 18.

Here are some of the highlights of the new rules:

 • Camping would be banned on all city property, including two “parklets,” which are parking spaces converted into pocket parks. Nobody would be cited under the new rule before a warning from police, and the city manager could allow temporary camping if the council declares an emergency.

The camping ban would include all “camp paraphernalia, including sleeping bags, blankets and cooking equipment.

 • Sitting and lying on sidewalks downtown would be banned for the entire sidewalk, instead of the 6-foot zone from the building edge, as is the case now. The ban would apply from 7 a.m.-midnight, longer than the present ban, which is from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. However, “acts committed as a valid exercise of one’s constitutional rights” would not be an offense.

 • Restrictions on busking, otherwise known as street performing, would be eliminated.

 • Restrictions requiring sandwich signs to be 6 feet from the edge of a building would be eliminated.

The council acted after City Manager Steve Hall came before the council Dec. 4, asking members to immediately ban camping at City Hall, where dozens of people have spent the night in recent weeks, posing health and safety issues. A dog belonging to one of the campers attacked a city employee, and people have used drugs and urinated next to the building, he said.

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 have spoken out against the changes. One of the campers, Shawn Davis, 19, said he had no other place to go.

“I feel like I’m not safe any more,” he said in an interview. “I feel like … they just kicked me out of my own home.”

Raistlin Watkins, 21, said that being homeless isn’t a crime.

“It’s demeaning that they make it so there can’t be homeless people in Olympia,” he said.

But Councilman Steve Langer advocated for the changes last week, saying that it’s a safety issue when people are blocking entrances and 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 get out of their cars.

Most other council members voiced support for the new rules, except for Councilman Jim Cooper. He said a public hearing needs to be held before action is taken.

“I support the repealing of the busking and not any other pieces of this recommendation,” he said at last week’s meeting.

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