Albany has banned unauthorized camping on public property and set up a zone from which the municipal court may banish repeat criminals for up to a year. Both measures are in effect starting now.
The city council acted Wednesday night, approving the camping ban and exclusion zone on votes of 5-1, with Dick Olsen opposed. (He explained his reasons, but I didn’t hear all he said. If you want to know, watch the council meeting when it’s posted at cityofAlbany.net, probably later today.)
As it did when both ordinances were up for the first time two weeks ago, the council listened to residents on the east side of central Albany. They told stories of being harassed and having their properties invaded by vagrants, drug users or thieves. Others said the city can’t hope to solve the problem with punitive laws but must do more to try to help struggling people find housing and jobs.
As of now, camping is banned on sidewalks, streets, alleys, lanes, any public right of way, park, or any publicly owned property under bridges and viaducts unless the city allows it in emergencies. What happens to violators? The ordinance doesn’t say.
The other ordinance sets up an “enhanced law enforcement area” stretching from the Willamette River south to Pacific Boulevard, Albany Station and 11th Avenue, and from Elm Street on the west to Pine Street on the east. According to the police, the zone covers 5 percent of the city’s land area where 19 percent of Albany crime is reported.
If someone is convicted of three offenses within the area over six months, the city judge may ban that person from entering the area for a period of from three months to a year, with exceptions for visiting places like Mental Health or other offices. Someone caught violating such an exclusion order is to be arrested on a misdemeanor charge of “persistent violation.” That could entail jail time.
Councilor Bessie Johnson voted for the exclusion ordinance but was uneasy with it. She requested and got an assurance that in six months, the council will review how the law is working out.
Mayor Sharon Konopa welcomed the new laws as tools to get people to change. She also challenged critics of what the city has been doing about homelessness to join her in another “conversation” on what more could be done.
Both the camping ban and exclusion ordinance had emergency clauses, meaning they took effect when the mayor signed them, which she did Wednesday night. (hh)