Eugene City Council updates camping ordinance
The Eugene City Council has revised a city ordinance that regulates camping on public property. The 6-2 vote Wednesday lifted the current blanket ban and replaced it with specific rules about where people can’t camp and why.
The ordinance comes as part of a wave of similar actions in cities around the state. All are in response to a new state law that requires bans on camping in public spaces to be “objectively reasonable.” For Eugene, and most Oregon cities, this means explaining why camping isn’t allowed in a given space, not necessarily that camping restrictions are going to change in any practical way.
In Eugene, at least, it does mean some small changes. The ordinance now no longer mentions sleeping bags or open-air sleeping on public property–those restrictions are covered under a variety of other bills and ordinances.
The revisions will likely make it so there are some places people can camp where they couldn’t before. For example, a very wide median strip that left five feet of space between the campsite and the road would be ok.
On the other hand, some places where people are currently camping, such as near schools, are now more strongly prohibited. Consequences have also increased: anyone cited for violating the code more than twice in one month is considered a “willful violator” and could potentially face a $500 fine or up to ten days in jail. That’s double the current fine of $250.
The higher fine appealed to Councilor Randy Groves.
“We need to signal that we are serious about correcting this issue,” he said.
But the increased penalties drew sharp criticism from Councilor Lyndsie Leech.
“People are just going to continue to fail, if they’re getting fined, and fined, and jailed, and jailed, for the simple act of being unhoused?” she said. “And this willful violation is just two times in one month? We cannot house people in 30 days in this community.”
Leech was one of two councilors to vote against the changes to the ordinance. The other “no” vote came from Emily Semple.