Crazy Faith supporters blast Olympia parking lot proposal

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 3, 2013 

Several people attended Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting to voice outrage over the city’s proposal to change its parking ordinance.

Some see the ordinance, which would require a permit to use city-owned parking lots for any use other than parking, as a bureaucratic barrier. One opponent is Crazy Faith Ministries, which feeds hundreds of homeless residents each week at a city-owned parking lot at State Avenue and Washington Street.

The proposal was initially sparked by a concern for pedestrian safety near the Olympia Transit Center across from the State Avenue lot, along with complaints from business owners about litter.

City Manager Steve Hall said the proposal “is a cleanup of existing language in the city code” when it comes to managing public spaces.

Groups could still use public property to feed the homeless, but would need a city permit to do so, Hall said.

Ben Charles of Crazy Faith is concerned that the ordinance will hamper his charity’s efforts.

“We’re just people helping people,” said Charles, adding that Crazy Faith has fed homeless residents at the State Avenue parking lot for nearly three years. “We work hard to ensure we are leaving the parking lot better than when we found it.”

Hall and council members said the city is willing to work with Crazy
Faith Ministries to find an alternative location.

“We’re looking for safety more than anything else and consistency in the process,” Councilman Nathaniel Jones said. “I believe we have the same objectives in mind.”

One solution is asking groups like Crazy Faith to apply for a temporary use permit or a right-of-way obstruction permit. Costs for these permits range from $50 to $187. Another solution includes helping Crazy Faith find private property.

“The goal is to manage public property in a respectable way,” Hall said.

The council voted 6-1 to send the ordinance to a second reading.

Councilwoman Karen Rogers voted no. The next council meeting is 7 p.m. next Tuesday at City Hall.

Under the proposed ordinance, those who use city-owned parking lots without a permit could face a fine. According to city code, such “street obstructions” would result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail. A more likely scenario would be a $50 ticket, said Darren Nienaber, deputy city attorney.

Olympia attorney Dave Roland, director of the Stiles Center for Liberty at the Freedom Foundation, called the potential $1,000 penalty “offensive” and “unconstitutional.”

“The Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully assemble for the common good,” Roland said, referring to Crazy Faith. “If they can’t do it on a parking lot that’s reserved for public use, then where can they do it?”

The proposed ordinance includes an annual registration of $10 for all cars in the city’s residential parking program that regulates parking in eight designated zones. For now, the parking is free for the first vehicle, and $10 for each additional vehicle for residents who live in the zones. The new fee would begin in January 2015. Residents would also be required to pay outstanding tickets before obtaining a parking permit.

Another new regulation includes banning overnight camping in all city parking lots. Vehicles would also be required to move every 48 hours to avoid being towed. Currently, vehicles must be moved every five days.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 @andyhobbs

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