SUNNYSIDE — The City Council met for a workshop at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3, to discuss public parking and vehicle ordinances after concerns about overnight camping at the South Seventh Street parking lot.
Councilman Mike Farmer had brought up the issue on July 6, wanting the homeless persons in that area to vacate the lot due to business owners and residents near the area.
While the city has no clear ordinances on overnight camping, the city’s legal counsel, Eric Ferguson, suggested options while also presenting court cases where in Ninth Circuit Court (Martin v. Boise), “sleeping, sitting, or lying in all public spaces when no alternative sleeping space is available” cannot be a crime as it interferes with the eighth amendment rights – this prohibits the government from imposing excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishments.
Ferguson reiterated that an ordinance is unconstitutional if it “punishes a person for lacking the means to live out the ‘universal and unavoidable consequences of being human.’”
An option presented by Ferguson was the case of Lavan v. Los Angeles which dealth with encampment removal procedures. If a city wanted to remove an encampment, a notice of about 48-72 hours is typical. If the personal property is removed, it will be overseen by City staff with safety training and equipment required or a contracted vendor that requires a clear contract of terms and conditions. The property may typically be stored for 60 days.
After about 30 minutes of relaying information and options, Mayor Francisco Guerrero opened the workshop for questions and discussions.
Councilman Farmer stated the city should move forward in drafting an ordinance to have control over the parking lots and parks.
“It looks to me, from what I understand, there are some ways that we could probably do that and make it better than what it is, even if we have to designate a certain area of the city as that place. Maybe we could do that,” he said.
Farmer added, “The rights of the citizens who live next to this are every bit as valuable as the rights of the people who are trying to camp there.”
Councilman John Henry agreed with Farmer in that there should be a temporary area with a portable restroom made available as well.
“I do believe we need a place for homeless because right now we have nothing. Everyone knows that. We can’t just send them to Toppenish, this is our problem,” Henry expressed.
Henry further explained how homelessness is a Washington problem. “We are very fortunate to have such a small amount of this problem in our area and I feel as a community we can deal with it.”