In separate votes, the Olympia City Council decided Tuesday night to ban camping on public property and place new restrictions on sitting and lying on sidewalks downtown. But the new rules will take effect on different dates.
The council voted 6-1 on first reading to ban camping on public property. Councilman Jim Cooper voted no.
The council had considered passing the camping ordinance in one reading because the council doesn’t meet again until Jan. 8. That would have allowed the new rules to take effect Jan. 18.
But, at the suggestion of Mayor Stephen Buxbaum, the council decided to act on first reading only, meaning a final vote would happen Jan. 8 and, if passed, the ordinance would go into effect Feb. 8.
The council agreed to give extra time to allow a homeless shelter for youth to open at Rosie’s Place, which is now a drop-in center for youth on State Avenue. That shelter is slated to open in January, chief executive officer Charles Shelan said in an interview.
Then the council voted 5-2 to adopt stricter rules on sitting and lying on sidewalks on first and final reading. Buxbaum and Cooper voted no. Buxbaum said he wanted the ordinance to have a provision to expire after one year.
The ordinance will take effect Jan. 18.
Here are highlights of the new rules:
• Camping will be banned on all city property, including two “parklets,” which are parking spaces converted into pocket parks. Nobody will 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 will include all “camp paraphernalia, including sleeping bags, blankets and cooking equipment.
• Sitting and lying on sidewalks downtown will be banned for the entire sidewalk, instead of the 6-foot zone from the building edge, as is the case now. The ban will 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, will be eliminated.
• Restrictions requiring sandwich signs to be 6 feet from the edge of a building will be eliminated.
The council acted after impassioned pleas from advocates for the homeless in the audience, asking the council not to adopt it.
Terry Zander told the council that the current sit/lie ordinance, adopted in 2006, doesn’t work.
“I think it’s time that we learn that the city is not a separate entity from the community and that we need to figure out how to put the two together, because we’re willing to help you folks if you’re just willing to listen to us,” he said.
But City Manager Steve Hall called for action, saying the city wasn’t going to solve the problem of homelessness, though it has made many efforts to address it over the years.
“Homelessness has been with us since the second chapter of the Bible,” he said. “Giving a little more time will not solve this problem, not if you have three more weeks, not if you have three more months, not if you have three more years.”
Homelessness downtown is a perennial issue, but the recent push to change city ordinances came after Hall came before the council Dec. 4, asking members to immediately ban camping at City Hall. Dozens of people have spent the night in recent weeks, posing health and safety issues, he said. 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, members agreed to consider a more comprehensive approach for downtown.