With little discussion and unified agreement, the Douglas County Commission approved the first reading of an ordinance to limit public camping and prohibit temporary structures on public property.
With the initial approval, Garcia said the ordinance will now proceed to a second reading on June 20 where the commission is expected to take a final vote. At that point, Garcia said it will become law 30 days later.
County Attorney Jeff Garcia said, “The goal of the ordinance as it’s been presented is to prohibit camping on public property without written permission by the county unless no other shelter is available. In addition, it limits the erection of temporary structures on county property without written permission from the county.”
Those in violation of the ordinance can face a $1,000 fine.
“The goal of the ordinance is to provide for public health, safety, and wellbeing. Especially for those using our county property and to assist those seeking shelter to find safe and appropriate shelter,” Garcia said.
Garcia is confident the camping ban will hold up to possible legal challenges given court rulings in a case involving the City of Boulder.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the City of Boulder, claiming the city’s camping ban, which had been in place since 1980, violates provisions of the Colorado Constitution.
Those opposed to camping bans say they are cruel and unusual punishment because the homeless being cited do not always have access to indoor shelters.
Garcia said the ordinance, which was developed through the Douglas County Homeless Initiative, addresses many of the issues raised in the Boulder lawsuit, including the constitutional right to access public property and whether there is an unalienable right to rest in public places.
“We have crafted the ordinance to avoid those areas that have been found and treated negatively by the (Boulder lawsuit),” Garcia said. “We are already doing exactly what the court has asked us to do and we are following the court’s direction to provide for our community’s safety.”
Commissioner Abe Laydon, who spoke in favor of the bill, said, the ordinance will continue to build on the hard work of the Douglas County Homeless initiative.
“When you look at cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco where rampant camping is allowed to persist at the expense of taxpayers and the business community – there is sort of a blind eye that’s turned to those sorts of encampments,” he said. “I’m really proud of the elected officials in Douglas County, my colleagues and mayors and council members in municipalities that have uniformly supported this campaign.”
More discussion will be held on June 20.
This story's headline was updated to reflect that t his was the initial vote for the ordinance.