ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Divided Ashland council passes camping ordinance

Campers have been storing tents along Main Street during the day, but will no longer be allowed to do so. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news
December 21, 2023

Rules governing who can sleep in public spaces when and where will be reviewed in 6 months

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

On a 4-2 vote, Ashland City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday to control where and how camping can take place on the streets of Ashland. 

Councilors Paula Hyatt, Dylan Bloom, Gina DuQuenne and Jeff Dahle voted in favor of the ordinance while councilors Bob Kaplan and Eric Hansen voted against. 

The ordinance was altered slightly between its first and second reading. Under the term “occupy” the word “person” was deleted, emphasizing instead occupation of public property through possessions or property. A prohibition against camping near parks with “playground equipment” was also altered to “youth recreational equipment.” 

Hansen offered a motion to table the second reading of the ordinance for review and a more collaborative process including the Housing and Human Services Commission and the Ashland Police Department. Kaplan seconded the motion referring to the proposed ordinance as a “crazy quilt” lacking clarity and failing to prohibit camping in a number of dangerous locations such as the Ashland watershed. 

The motion failed with only Hansen and Kaplan voting in favor. 

Following the split vote to make the ordinance law, council unanimously approved a motion to review successes and challenges of the ordinance in a study session in six months and a motion proposed by Kaplan to strike the last sentence of the ordinance’s preamble.

“The objective of this ordinance is to differentiate between those who genuinely lack alternatives and use public spaces out of necessity, and those who have access to suitable alternative spaces and shelter but instead willfully exploit public spaces for personal gain or advantage, to the detriment of the general public that includes the involuntarily homeless population,” was removed from the ordinance. 

Council and Mayor Tonya Graham also directed city staff to create a “positive map” of all the places homeless people can camp in Ashland within 30 days. The ordinance will also be in effect in 30 days. 

In other council business Tuesday, council also approved a motion to grant Acting City Manager Sabrina Cotta the authority to accept state grant funds to extend the operation of the Emergency Shelter at 2200 Ashland St. to March 31, 2024. If the funds become available to Ashland, it will likely occur during council’s holiday break, Cotta said. The agenda item also requested authority for the Acting City Manager to extend contracts, special use permits and other shelter-related business without additional approval from council. 

The motion passed with only Councilor Dylan Bloom voting against. Bloom said he believed the council should not vote to accept grant funding without reviewing its terms. 

Council unanimously approved a change to the city charter allowing alcohol in Ashland parks under controlled circumstances and a curfew for all parks properties. All property owned by Ashland Parks & Recreation will close from midnight to 5 a.m., when no one may “remain” in parks. Individuals may walk or run through parks during these hours, said Interim Director of APRC Leslie Eldridge. 

One agenda item was left unfinished, a proposal to alter temperature thresholds for the city’s emergency weather shelter. The cold weather threshold would drop from 32 degrees to 25 while the warm weather shelter would rise from 80 to 102 degrees, according to an agenda item co-referencing Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Burns and Cotta.

Council did not have time to vote on the item or hear staff presentations and only heard public comment on the issue. Four Ashland residents spoke in vociferous opposition to the change. 

Helena Turner, a nurse with the Oregon Health & Science University’s street nursing team, referred to the current standard of 32 degrees as inhumane. Turner said nurses have already seen weather related cases of frostbite and gangrene with resulting loss of fingers, toes and occasional mortality.  

Karen Caldwell stated she would go to the Ashland city Plaza Saturday at 8 p.m., a night when the shelter has already been called according to the current temperature threshold. 

“I’m going to sit in the Plaza as long as I can stand it and I invite anyone to join me,” she said. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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