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City ban on camping within 100 feet of waterway passes on 1st reading

June 27, 2018
       Buoyed by Mayor John Suthers' report that more shelter beds are coming, Colorado Springs City Council voted June 26 for an ordinance disallowing campsites within 100 feet of a waterway.
       The vote isn't final. Because city ordinances must be approved twice, a "second reading" will be necessary - probably at the next formal council meeting July 10.
A popular spot for illegal camping - also a concern for safety in flash floods - is the mouth of the pipe that carries Camp Creek drainage into Fountain Creek. The intersection of Colorado Avenue and 31st Street can be seen above. A proposed city ordinance would make such camping doubly illegal because the site is within 100 feet of a waterway.
Steve Bartley photo; used with permission
The public is welcome to comment.
       The impetus for the new law is a concern that trash, debris and effluent from camps are polluting local creeks and streams, including Fountain Creek through the Westside.
       According to statistics from City Stormwater Manager Richard Mulledy, the city averages more than one waterway cleanup a week, with nearly 15 tons of garbage picked up in the first half of this year alone. But with “270 miles of open channel” in the city, all of it can't be patrolled, he said.
       He summarized that he and his staff perceive an “increased risk to the water quality of city streams” due to growing numbers of people camping near them. He said the 100-foot distance is based on a rule used by the El Paso County Health Department regarding septics.
       Mulledy also noted a concern for campers' safety, in that camps are often found in dry channels prone to flash floods.
       The vote was 7-2. In favor were Richard Skorman, Tom Strand, Merv Bennett, Don Knight, Andy Pico, Jill Gaebler and David Geislinger.
       Skorman, who did not voice support when the subject first came up at a council work session in May, described his decision as “very difficult.” On the one hand, he pointed out, the city has a “responsibility to keep those waterways clean, and
This spot next to Fountain Creek, beside the Midland Trail just west of 26th Street, was used for a camp for about two months during the past winter. This was the trash left behind in January before the city cleaned it up.
Westside Pioneer photo
we are being taken to task on this by an EPA lawsuit.” In addition, he said he has seen “evidence of a high E. Coli count, especially where the homeless are camping.”
       On the other hand, the District 3 councilmember cautioned that passing the law “won't necessarily solve the problem we may think it's going to solve,” because campers, in leaving their stream locations, “may become more visible.”
       Councilmembers opposed to the law were Bill Murray and Yolanda Avila, who both believe the law amounts to “targeting the homeless.”
       Avila protested the size of the potential criminal penalty, which could be as high as a $2,500 fine or 180 days in jail. Pico rebutted that a more likely penalty from a judge would be community service to pick up stream garbage, “which would be more helpful.”
       Murray has argued that the city's legal position is weak because it can't absolutely prove other pollution sources aren't involved. For example, a water study nine years ago identified bird droppings as the biggest E. Coli problem in Fountain Creek.
       Murray also homed in on the question of why the city doesn't instead enforce its no-camping law (thus making the 100-foot issue a moot point). The city policy in recent years, to avoid legal challenges, has been not to enforce the law when the shelters are full. So Murray asked how many more beds were needed to avoid that situation, year-round.
       The answer, provided by Skorman and City Homeless Coordinator Andrew Phelps, was 300 (reaching an overall total of 525), but to fit the need the added beds must be of the “low barrier” kind (meaning no rules about people being on drugs or alcohol).
       Such details wouldn't apply to the 100-foot law, which would be enforceable no matter how full the shelters are.
       Speaking to council at the meeting, Mayor Suthers showed optimism about the city's quest for more beds, noting that the Springs Rescue Mission recently purchased a warehouse for that purpose.
       The mayor also urged approval of the waterways ordinance.
       Geislinger couched his yes vote with the caveat that he wants to see more comprehensive legislation on second reading, which would encompass “dignity” elements for the homeless. Among these, he said, would be the city providing access to clean water “to all people,” instead of just telling campers they can't use creek water.
       Four citizens spoke during the public hearing part of the meeting, and all were in favor of the law. Two said they had joined in a recent cleanup and were dismayed by the volume and size of camper-related trash they found, including clothing, mattresses and sleeping bags.

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Ongoing Issues)

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