Update: Urban Camping Compliance Ordinance
Spokane City Council is considering updates to city ordinances to address Unauthorized Camping and clarify enforcement of the Sitting, Lying on Sidewalk Ordinance. With significant impacts in Downtown, these issues were identified as top priorities by the Downtown Spokane Partnership board of directors in the adoption of the 2022 policy platform.
- Read the recent opinion article, The Time for Action is Now, authored by DSP board chair, Chris Batten.
On July 25, City Council deferred a hearing for the Urban Camping Compliance Ordinance indefinitely in a 5-2 vote. The ordinance was supported by the DSP as it clarifies and reinstates enforcement of the sit-lie ordinance between 6 a.m. to midnight in the Downtown Police Precinct and Downtown Business Improvement District areas. Additionally, this update recognizes the unique concentration of infrastructure and hospitality/pedestrian activity to designate the entirely of downtown as “no camping at all times.”
Council President Breean Beggs and Council Member Lori Kinnear have proposed an alternative draft ordinance that also designated parks, Spokane River and only downtown railway viaducts as prohibited locations for camping. While there are many similarities, this legislation does not designate the entirety of the Downtown Business Improvement District as a no camping area and makes no mention of sit-lie enforcement. The timing for consideration at City Council is unknown.
Following the Martin v. City of Boise court decision, the City of Spokane suspended enforcement of its no camping and sit-lie ordinances to understand the impacts of the ruling. Earlier this year, DSP retained the law firm, Tonkon Torp, LLP, to evaluate the effect of the decision on the City’s ability to enforce these ordinances. In their analysis, they clarified that the court’s decision “in no way” requires governments to “allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets…at any time and at any place.” Tonkon also noted that allowing the uncontrolled spread of encampments carries its own set of legal risks, including exposure to lawsuits by businesses and residents stemming from economic harms, property damage, constitutional violations, and violation of the rights of individuals under the ADA and related protections for the disabled. Aside from legal risks, encampments can cause substantial interference with intended uses of public facilities and increased costs from responding to emergency situations, damage to critical infrastructure, reduced urban livability and desirability, and the loss of tax revenue.
With this analysis, the DSP Executive Committee worked with Mayor Nadine Woodward’s administration to propose legislation to re-establish no camping areas and enforcement of sit-lie. With support of Council Members Michael Cathcart and Jonathan Bingle, the Urban Camping Compliance Ordinance was presented to the City Council on July 25 to a hearing on August 1. City Council voted 5-2 to defer the ordinance hearing indefinitely, with Council Members Cathcart & Bingle in opposition.