ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Public camping ordinance adoption postponed

Eight tents covered with snow under the Threshold sculpture on Gateway Island in Ashland in March. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
November 23, 2023

Proposed revisions merit further review, council majority decides

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

On a split vote, the Ashland City Council on Tuesday tabled a proposed camping ordinance, postponing any action to the next council meeting.

The first reading of the proposed ordinance to prohibit where, when and for how long individuals experiencing homelessness can camp in the city of Ashland underwent a brief discussion Tuesday evening when Councilor Bob Kaplan expressed that he was “uncomfortable” with what he referred to as “editing at the table.”

The ordinance draft submitted to councilors to consider for a vote was different from the draft posted as an agenda item for the meeting. Deputy City Attorney Carmel Zahran referred to the changes as “non-substantive clarifications,” but Kaplan stated he believed the changes were substantive.

The changes included an alteration to page three, section C which details that prohibited camping in certain locations can be overridden in the case of an emergency or if a shelter space is unavailable. One alteration included a typo with additional highlighted altered language in the draft submitted to councilors. 

Councilors Dylan Bloom and Jeff Dahle voted against the motion to table the ordinance while Councilors Paula Hyatt, Gina DuQuenne, Eric Hansen and Kaplan voted in favor, passing the motion to table the ordinance 4-2. 

Ashland residents spoke to the potential ordinance after the vote to table it. 

“We’ve been writing you guys emails, we’ve been saying all these things, so now it feels like it’s just getting kicked down the road,” said local developer Trina Sanford. 

A new group — the South Ashland Neighborhood and Business Coalition — has been recently formed to balance the city’s responsibility to homeless people, children and the wider community, she said. 

Judy Bunch identified herself as a member of the group and stated it had already grown to 50 members. The group is concerned with public health and safety, particularly with a portion of the homeless population who “loiter, leave garbage and human waste behind,” she said. Overdoses and drug paraphernalia have also become more common in the area.

Echo Fields, a member of Ashland’s Housing and Human Services Committee, reminded the council of the homelessness master plan the committee has been asked to create. 

“This ordinance would tie our hands to some extent and would set the perimeters of some of the work we can do. I think that it’s highly likely that some of the work that we do will end up recommending some changes for this ordinance should it pass,” she said. 

Debbie Nieswander, an advocate for homeless people in Ashland, questioned the ordinance’s prohibitions on camping within 200 to 500 feet of designated spaces. Police would have to carry measuring tape to enforce such a rule, she said. She also questioned the ability to enforce a two hour occupancy limit for public benches. 

“Basically I think the ordinance is against the homeless, and I think ordinances should be created to regulate behavior and not status,” she said. 

Council also reviewed a list of proposed “shelter goals” intended to support the needs of south Ashland residents and guests at the emergency shelter at 2200 Ashland St. 

The goals include requests for lighting under the Ashland Street Bridge and along the length of Central Bike Path. A request to contend with gaps in fencing along the crosstown bike path has slowed as the city looks into a lawsuit connected with one section of the fence, said Acting City Manager Sabrina Cotta. 

Requests to relocate the shower trailer at 2200 Ashland St. were deemed impossible due to the location of utilities on the property. A request to relocate the portable toilets on site has also been rejected due to requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act and fire response egress. A neighborhood clean-up process is also an upcoming project listed in the goals. 

In other council business Tuesday, councilors voted unanimously to approve an amended version of an ordinance change to allow alcohol in controlled settings in Ashland’s parks. Interim Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Eldridge said many event organizers will not hold events in locations that do not allow alcohol. An increase in the volume and variety of events in Ashland’s parks would contribute economic vibrancy for the city, she said. 

The ordinance was amended to allow alcohol only in a limited number of locations in parks and with additional city control over security companies at such events. 

Councilors also unanimously approved a contract not to exceed $141,000 with nonprofit organization Lomakatsi Restoration Project to begin wildfire safety and forestry work on Ashland’s municipal forest lands. The project is the first step in a larger plan to use helicopter logging to mitigate accelerated die-off of Douglas fir trees throughout municipal forests, said Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Officer Chris Chambers. 

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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