Homeless mitigation site opens in downtown Olympia
A judge on Monday granted a request from downtown business owners to stop a city-run homeless camp from moving forward — but only after the camp opened and dozens moved in.
The four anonymous business owners sued the city last week, arguing the city’s plan for a camp violated its own ordinance on emergency housing facilities. They wanted a judge to block the construction and opening of the camp.
On Monday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon granted the motion for a temporary restraining order. That was expected to go into effect Monday afternoon, and Dixon said people already on the site by then could stay.
The camp — which the city is calling a mitigation site meant to address the growing number of tents downtown — opened Monday morning on a city-owned parking lot at Olympia Avenue Northeast and Franklin Street Northeast.
Would-be residents lined up to get a city-issued tent and sign an agreement to follow site rules. Those include no open drug or alcohol use and no predatory behavior such as drug dealing, sex trafficking, assaults and abuse.
Officials had said there would be room for 80 to 120 tents, along with portable restrooms, running water and garbage collection.
In court Monday, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jon Cushman, said his clients believe the mitigation site will become a permanent camp and that property damage and threats his clients say they already have experienced will only get worse.
The city’s lawyer, Jeffrey Myers, countered that oversight at the mitigation site is preferable to the unmanaged camps that have existed downtown for months.
“I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding for what a mitigation site is on the part of the plaintiffs,” Myers said. “This is not bringing in 100 new campsites for others. This is intended to put in place something to deal with the 300-plus campsites that have sprung up in Olympia over the last several months.”
On Friday, the city issued a waiver of provisions in the emergency housing ordinance related to the mitigation site, citing the public health emergency the City Council declared in July.
The ordinance says a facility’s host agency must notify nearby property owners, that facilities must be limited to 40 people, and the site must be 1,000 feet from another site.
Cushman argued the waiver was only to provide the city cover in court.
“For the city to declare an emergency and then use it to deprive its own citizens of due process to watch what it’s doing is wrong. Those are precious rights as well,” he said.
A hearing on a preliminary injunction in the case is set for Dec. 21. Dixon outlined issues he wants to hear arguments on, including the city’s communication with the plaintiffs on the mitigation site, and its right to waive requirements of the emergency housing ordinance.
He said he also is concerned about the anonymity of the plaintiffs, who could be ordered to identify themselves.
Dixon made clear Monday’s decision was not final and not a signal of a later ruling on the mitigation site.
“This is not a final hearing on the merits. It would be incorrect for any person to assume — let alone conclude — that this court has or will make a ruling that the city does not have a right or an obligation to continue (opening) the mitigation site,” he said.
Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869