Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Will Code Enforcement Trump Council?

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Becky Beaman has a camping plan
Becky Beaman, one of 17 offering public comment on Ordinance Bill 10-19 (now mainly a camping ban) Monday night, has a plan for the City to allow one tent camp and one car camp in each Ward.  See here pp 6-20.  The only problem is, she needs the consent of the property owners and someone to run the program(s).  Sound familiar?  If not, see "Sanctioned Camping" for a history of such efforts in Salem.

To the surprise of many, Council amended the camping ban to make an exception for areas designated by the City (Nordyke), and delayed  enactment for two weeks to allow City staff to identify City property suitable for camping (Andersen).  See Brynelson, T. "Salem bans open camping, and now seeks a place to host it." (December 3, 2019, Salem Reporter); Bach, J. "Salem may set aside City property for homeless."  (December 2, 2019, Statesman Journal).  The amendments signaled a   willingness of a majority of Council to consider, over Mayor Bennett's dead body, allowing what Councilor Kaser refers to as "organized camping" on City property.  The last time Councilor Kaser asked the City to consider allowing camping on City property, the idea was shot down  immediately, mainly by Salem Police.

Kinda makes you wonder what Chief Moore is thinking now.  He goes to Council seeking unfettered discretion to police people for sitting and lying on sidewalks and a simple camping ban, and now he's looking at having to police an impromptu, amateur camping program.  He's got to wonder, "Can this be happening?"

But consider this:  not a single public comment (out of 16 written and 17 oral) offered Monday night supported the camping ban.  Not one.  Made playing to the opposition, so filled with moral conviction, almost inevitable.        

Council directed staff to return next Monday (December 9) with a list of suitable properties and some kind of staff recommendation to guide use.  Assuming they are able to ID one or more properties by next Monday, the meeting should be very interesting to watch.  What limitations will staff propose?  What kind of supports will the Council expect the City to provide and for how long?  How is providing those supports likely to affect various departmental budgets, if at all?  What kind of liability will the City have to assume?  Who, if anyone, will step forward to implement the program?  What will the neighbors and neighborhood association have to say?

Council's actions are based on the premise that the campers who will be displaced by the camping ban, primarily the 60+ people camping in the 600 block of Commercial, near The ARCHES Project, "have nowhere to go" (having previously been driven downtown from the area around Wallace Marine Park).

Problem is, those campers are going to be rousted, dispersed and decamped 24-48 hours after the Neighborhood Enhancement Division declares the camps a public nuisance under SRC Chapter 50.800, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, based on Brady Rogers' statements to the Council last night.  Jimmy Jones, the Executive Director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, says campers when rousted just "scatter."  In other words, they're not waiting around two weeks for the City to organize a camping program.

And there goes Council's justification for emergency measures to allow camping on City property.

All this was evident last night, of course, but everyone was either feeling triumphant, or scrambling to understand how they'd just been sandbagged, so the pointlessness of it all didn't quite sink in.  Welcome to Salem, where there is no comprehensive policy on homelessness, and everything ends up being an emergency. 

12/4/19 Update:  after consultation with police, the Urban Development Department and staff of the Mid-Willamette Community Action Agency, it appears Rogers has decided not to declare the camps in the 600 block of Commercial, near The ARCHES Project, a public nuisance, but instead to wait until such time as the camping ban takes effect on the 16th before posting.  It remains highly unlikely that a viable camping program will be in place by that time.  See Brynelson, T. "Tents around The ARCHES Project may stand until camping ban takes effect."  (December 4, 2019, Salem Reporter.)