Council mulls options for designated homeless sleeping areas

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

City Council held a work session prior to its regular meeting Feb. 8 to discuss legal issues associated with sleeping on public property, plus Illegal Camping Ad Hoc Committee recommendations and code implications.
New laws in recent years have impacted the city’s approach to managing people “sleeping” on public property, a term that covers sleeping, sitting, lying and staying warm and dry. For purposes of discussion, staff referred to it as “protection from the elements.”
Case and state laws prohibit the city from penalizing people “sleeping” on public property when shelter was unavailable, but do allow communities to apply reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on finding protection from the elements.
The ad hoc committee recommended revised code language intended to address the recent laws, particularly HB 3115, which requires cities to implement ordinances or be subject to the broad state regulations.
Introduced in 2021 by House Speaker Tina Kotek, the bill guides cities to provide “objectively reasonable” ordinances pertaining to time, place and manner for the homeless on public property.
To comply with the laws and provide reasonable options, the committee sought city-owned property appropriate for “designated sleeping areas.” Proposed changes to municipal codes 12.12 and 12.14 define city park boundaries, recreation areas and public spaces, and provide limits on where people could sleep.
In short, these proposed changes state that a person may rest with temporary structures (tent, bedding) in certain parts of public parks (e.g., grassy areas not used for recreation) during park hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and in designated sleeping areas from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
These structures may not be secured to any permanent structures or ground and must be removed when designated hours are not in effect. Fires may not be lit, and rules of public decency, safety standards and hazards are defined.
The committee examined four city-owned locations that could serve as such areas: vacant space in front of the Public Works building on Oak Street, space next to City Hall on Maple Street, the old “Holiday Station” parking lot at Ralston Park, and a portion of Park Street parking lot across from the station.
Several other city-owned locations were ruled out due to factors such as being a wetland, drainage way or environmentally hazardous (wastewater treatment plant) area or near dangerous roadways, Brewer said. After some discussion, the committee chose to recommend to the council all but the Park Street parking lot.
“We need to come up with some kind of solution to tell people where to go once they are no longer allowed, for instance, in a park,” Police Chief Frank Stevenson said. “When the park closes, we have the legal right to ask them to move. If we do, where do they go? We had to find locations in order for us to be able to enforce any kind of trespassing issue or advise them they need to move along. The bottom line is we want to get away from simply going in there and telling them to leave and then arresting them when they don’t.
“We want to make sure that if we tell them to leave, we have another location. If they don’t go to [there] and they still want to remain on scene, then we have some legal teeth to address that issue.”
Mayor Ken Jackola asked if the city would be responsible for providing some form of shelter (cover, tarp, tent, etc.) if one was not available, since “staying warm and dry” was cited. City Manager Nancy Brewer responded that it wasn’t the city’s responsibility unless or until a court determined otherwise.
City Attorney Tre Kennedy provided additional clarification by pointing out that the 2020 Blake v. City of Grants Pass action specifically stated, “[U]nless alternative shelter exists, persons experiencing homelessness are entitled to take necessary minimal measures to keep themselves warm and dry while sleeping.”
Brewer said the city would provide porta-potties, trash service and hand-washing stations.
Councilor Dave Workman asked about the number of homeless people in Lebanon. Both Stevenson and Councilor KJ Ullfers agreed that there were 25.
Discussion continued about the volatility and infeasibility of unmanaged camps like the city’s designated sleeping areas. Brewer said they were different, however, because they were smaller and required campers to move every half-day. Ultimately, the discussion boiled down to determining the best locations. Council will consider its options before making a recommendation to staff.

In other business, the council:
♦ Appointed Cindy Kerby to the Parks, Trees and Trails Committee;
♦ Accepted the annual Urban Renewal District reports;
♦ Approved easements for the newly constructed sewer and water main extensions for the N. 5th Street apartment complex project;
♦ Heard public comment from: R-Jay Wilde, who lived on a busy street near the Lebanon Public Library library and requested a safer way to ease out of his driveway; Keith Murphy, who believed an unmarked police car was being used to issue tickets; Jereme Guenther, who expressed concern about police allegedly enforcing illegal laws (such as the “red flag laws,” he said) and, locally, who illegally seized a man’s firearms;
Teresa Neumann, who worried about a rise in crime against limited police staff, the closed Department of Motor Vehicles, streets cluttered with “dilapidated” recreational vehicles, and new housing by Walmart “replete with Spanish murals,” all of which she felt gave Lebanon a “second-world feel;” Garth Rylands, who identified himself as the caretaker at a new equipment storage location on the former Moose Lodge property, where he’s provided security and maintenace;
Jeremy Wells, who witnessed the explosion of an RV parked near his home and expressed concern about the lack of safety such “dilapidated” vehicles brought to neighborhoods; Linda Ziedrich, who was frustrated by poor pruning techniques by city staff on trees in front of her home; and Laura LaRoque, who spoke in favor of her client’s request for a code amendment to allow caretakers to live in an RV as well as a development code amendment regarding fence heights.
♦ Held discussion about the possibility of amending codes regarding caretaker dwelling units and fencing.
David Gillott, who owns an equipment and RV storage lot at 4070 Santiam Hwy., asked the city to consider municipal and development code amendments. Fencing and an on-site caretaker in an RV were established on the former Moose Lodge property due to security concerns.
The six-foot-fence had barbed wire, which violated the six-foot municipal limitation and required a building permit process. Municipal code also prohibited people from residing in RVs on the property after a given amount of time.
As such, the request was to consider amending the codes to allow exemptions for certain fencing structures that weren’t impacted by wind or a structural force, and to allow property caretakers to live in RVs where utilities are available.
Community Development Director Kelly Hart provided some options for how the council might want to proceed on the caretaker matter, but also said the code had already been amended to cover Gillott’s request regarding fencing.
Mary B. James submitted a written request on behalf of others in her neighborhood that the conditional use permit be specific to 4070 Santiam Hwy. and limited to one motorhome.
“We do not want a loophole for many RVs and motorhomes to be permitted to park all up and down Crowfoot Road, ‘as the code and law could be interpreted,’” she wrote. “We are asking you to amend this conditional use permit to ensure the codes and laws to include and abide by the county codes and laws to provide safety from the garbage, sewage and security of our children.”
The council agreed with Hart’s suggestion regarding an annual review of the caretaker site and sewer connection. Hart will draft an amendment to present;
♦ Held discussion about resolutions. After former Mayor Paul Aziz discontinued issuing proclamations last year, the Lebanon Police Department requested that the city adopt a resolution recognizing September 11 as Patriot Day, 9/11 Flag of Honor Across America Day and a National Day of Service.
Former Councilor Gamael Nassar then asked the council to discuss following that lead and placing resolutions on the agenda to cite specific events.
The council ultimately moved to decline sponsoring such resolutions, but would take advantage of its right to “make an impassioned speech” on behalf of itself and its constituents during discussion time.