New city ordinance disallows camping within 100 feet of waterwaysJuly 17, 2018
A city ordinance disallowing camps within 100 feet of public waterways passed Colorado Springs City Council on second and final reading at its meeting July 10.
The effective date is July 23, based on the normal ordinance process.
Urged by the Mayor's Office, the law is among several steps the city is taking to improve water quality in its creeks, according to City Stormwater Manager
Overnight camping on public land is already illegal, but is only enforced when city officials believe there are enough shelter beds for all who need them. That uncertainty is expected to change by November, when 300 more beds will have been added, City Councilmember Richard Skorman said.
In the meantime, he added, he does not know where a lot of the current creekside campers will go.
The waterways vote breakdown was the same as at first reading June 26, except that Andy Pico, one of the proponents, was not present. The opponents again were Yolanda Avila and Bill Murray - both of whom have alleged that the waterway law shows bias against homeless people.
Those in favor were Skorman (who is also council president), Don Knight, Tom Strand, Jill Gaebler, Merv Bennett and David Geislinger.
The latter councilmember's vote did not stop him from speaking at length about his support for homeless prevention efforts and his insistence that all forms of creek
He said he was encouraged by Mulledy's presentation, which pledged to continue public outreach, volunteer creek cleanups, coordination with the private sector and other regional governments and to consider adding trash cans.
Regarding the campers who will be displaced by the new law, Geislinger said, “we need to honor the dignity of these people to give them an opportunity to be placed in the right spot.”
However, his motion to delay the implementation to Aug. 10, to give campers more time to seek alternative locations, fell short.
Among those rejecting that delay was Strand, who argued that the proposal has been discussed by council since February and “it's been in the news. So if we're saying this is truly a health and safety matter, then we must not be that worried if we're ready to delay it.”
Geislinger was criticized in a different way by Avila, saying that what he should do is vote no on the ordinance to show “courage [for] what's morally right.”
Gaebler made the point that, while she does not want the city to be "punitive and harsh" with campers, the ordinance addresses the issue that "community members want to feel safe along trails" near streams. "I am one of them," she added, "because I do not feel safe."
Although studies have not yet specifically pinpointed pollution sources, the waterways ordinance states that “persons camped within public streams and/or public stream riparian zones may urinate, defecate, bathe in, or otherwise contaminate stream waters, resulting in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions.”
Other language in the law reveals that “water quality sampling conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) demonstrates that the majority of the Fountain Creek watershed within the City of Colorado Springs contains undesirable levels of E. coli, which is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans.
“The presence of E. coli in water may indicate recent sewage or human and/or animal waste contamination. The sampling resulted in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Water Quality Control Commission's ongoing determination that these waters are impaired (i.e., the waters are too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by the State of Colorado).”
The ordinance also notes that the 100-foot distance from stream banks is used by the National Forest Service and National Park Service in their campgrounds.
Under the law, violators could pay fines or even go to jail, but Knight said that based on past strategies with laws affecting the homeless population, police officers are more likely to just give warnings, unless perpetrators persist.
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