Medford City Council considers revisions to prohibited camping ordinance

The Medford City Council will hear proposals to redefine its prohibited camping ordinance for areas such as the Bear Creek Greenway during a study session tonight.

Posted: Feb 11, 2021 5:54 PM
Updated: Feb 11, 2021 6:22 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. -- The Medford City Council will hear proposals to redefine its prohibited camping ordinance for areas such as the Bear Creek Greenway during a study session tonight.

Deputy City Attorney Eric Mitton says the need comes after the court cases Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grants Pass. In September 2018, the City of Medford decriminalized its prohibited camping ordinance, reducing it to a non-criminal violation.

Two separate bills are also working their way through Oregon Legislature. One bill, supported by Representative Tina Kotek, states that “municipalities can’t prohibit lying, sitting, sleeping or keeping warm and dry jurisdiction-wide, but can place reasonable time, place or manner restrictions on such activities, and provides for a state court declaratory action to verify the reasonableness of such restrictions.”

The second bill, supported by Representative John Lively, “clarifies the current language in state law and increases the duration that property of value must be held from 30 days to 90 days.”

The proposed changes to the city’s prohibited camping ordinance are broken down into two phases.

“Instead of saying you can't camp anywhere, and then being selective in the enforcement, it needs to say on the face of the ordinance where it's specifically prohibited, and to better communicate with community members exactly what’s prohibited and what’s not,” Mitton said.

Mitton says safety concerns with fires is also creating the need for revisions to the ordinance.

“Certainly fires along the Greenway pose incredible threats to the community as a whole in terms of property and also potential lives lost,” Mitton said.

Mitton says one proposal is to limit lying, sleeping and tent camping on the city’s greenways from May 1st to September 30th – during fire season.

He says the greenway is hard for first responders to evacuate in emergency situations, like the Almeda fire.

"Thankfully, there was not a nightmare scenario with a large number of lives lost during that, but it was certainly a risk," Mitton said.  "A concern that first responders raised is that if there were another event like that, there is a potential it could have had a much larger loss of life."

The city is proposing a non-criminal, fine-only violation approach.

The fine won’t be decided by a patrol officer, but instead it will be set by a judge after a trial.

Once city council members hear the proposals, they’ll give feedback before a second draft is created.

A vote has not been scheduled yet.

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