Port Townsend delays ban on camping in city parks

PORT TOWNSEND — Hearing several advocates for the homeless plea for compassion, City Council members delayed consideration of an ordinance that would prohibit camping at Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park.

The City Council also late Monday unanimously approved on second reading a leash law for Chetzemoka Park, despite some protests, and unanimously approved a 30 percent increase in rates for city-operated swimming pool access at Mountain View Elementary School.

The council unanimously voted to refer the Kah Tai camping ban to the council special projects committee, made up of council members Dave King, George Randels and Laurie Medlicott.

The council asked that the committee hear more from the public and bring the matter back to the council by the end of August.

While some called for protection of Kah Tai park’s grounds and public access without fear of criminal activity, others delivered impassioned support for those who have no choice but to sleep outdoors in the cold.

The City Council on Jan. 21 approved the ordinance 6-1 on first reading.

Councilman Brent Butler, who was the lone dissenter, asked that the ordinance be later reviewed for its success.

“You’re making it illegal to live here and have no money,” shouted resident Paul Richmond, who ran over his allotted three minutes of speaking time and challenged Mayor Michelle Sandoval, who asked him to wrap it up, to have him arrested if she didn’t like it.

“You’re treating the homeless like dirt,” he said.

“We’re shoving them aside. We’re bulldozing them over.”

Richmond, who obtained statistics through a city public records request, said there were 44 incidents reported over three years in which police were called to the park.

He said there were 20 calls in 2006 and even fewer in 2007, showing that the problem was diminishing.

“When it comes to human rights on a local level, we suck,” Richmond told the council.

Steve Evans, a volunteer at the emergency homeless shelter at the American Legion Hall downtown, said, “Losing your home is stumbling off a tremendous precipice.”

Evans is on the board of Community Outreach Association Shelter Team, a nonprofit group of about 100 church and nondenominational Port Townsend-area residents.

Port Townsend resident Jennifer Taylor said those who are afraid of the homeless at the park should spend a night volunteering a the shelter.

The shelter is running at capacity, Taylor said. She urged the city to install fire rings and trash cans at the park rather than pass a law that would roust them from their camps.

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