Newport’s current camping ordinance is unenforceable because it conflicts with Oregon statute and case law, so the city is crafting new regulations.

During a work session Monday, Newport City Council got a first look at a draft ordinance to city code, adding language that complies with two bills adopted by the Oregon Legislature and a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

According to a report from Police Chief Jason Malloy, officers have been instructed not to enforce the prohibitions in Chapter 9.50 of city code since the decision in Martin v. Boise was handed down in 2019.

“Things like camping and resting have been identified by the courts as a need and a basic human right,” Malloy said. “And we can’t have ordinances or rules that take away somebody’s basic rights.”

The appeals court found that it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by criminalizing homelessness, and that sleeping in public places could not prohibited unless an alternative location could be provided. The ruling applies to all nine states in the Ninth Circuit, and likely hundreds of municipalities in the West found themselves with laws on the books that were effectively nullified.

Cities in Oregon must now also comply with the provisions of two bills passed in Salem during the last regular session — one extends the notice required before clearing a homeless encampment to three days, and the other requires that any regulations regarding camping be “objectively reasonable.”

Neither the ruling nor legislation impact private property.

To update Newport’s code, Malloy said he looked to Coos Bay, which already adopted new camping laws, borrowing language from that text for use in Newport. The draft also deletes the following from current code: “It is unlawful for any person to camp in or upon any sidewalk, street, alley, lane, public right of way, transit facility or bus shelter, or any other place to which the general public has access, or under any bridgeway or viaduct, unless otherwise specifically authorized by this city or by declaration by the mayor or city manager in emergency circumstances.”

The draft also lays out preliminary guidelines for where, when and what manner camping on public property would be permissible, a framework the police chief described as “just a starting point.”

Malloy said Coos Bay’s police chief told him there were immediate benefits when that city adopted its new regulations.

“Their complaints went down, their arrests went down, their garbage went down,” Malloy said. “Their sanitary conditions improved because they were now isolated to a specific area.”

City Manager Spencer Nebel said the city was currently unable to bar camping on any public property because there were no enforceable regulations in place.

City Attorney David Allen said that if a person experiencing homelessness contends that regulations are not objectively reasonable as required by state law, that person could bring a lawsuit against the city.

In response to Councilor Dietmar Goebel’s concern that restrictions on public property would push campers onto private land, Malloy said he did not expect that would be an issue, as it’s easier to enforce a trespassing complaint by an owner than control camping on city property.

“I think the thing the council needs to be clear about is, our restrictions are still going to allow a lot of areas for camping on public property,” Nebel said.

The draft language would prohibit setting up campsites in the following public spaces except when explicitly authorized: all park areas; publicly owned or maintained parking lots; and all publicly owned property located within and adjacent to as-yet undefined residential districts.

It would also prohibit maintaining a campsite or storing personal effects on public property from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Council established a Homelessness Task Force two years ago and implemented one of its recommendations, the establishment of designated car camping spots in a lot in the Deco District, which are seldom used, the police chief said.

Nebel noted prior to Malloy’s report that council has also provided funds to Grace Winds Haven to offer emergency winter shelter in area hotel rooms.

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