May 22, 2021 Dena Jensen
There will be an opportunity at Monday’s May 24, 2021, 7:00 p.m. Bellingham City Council meeting for people to comment during a Public Hearing on an issue that can impact individuals who are homeless, along with anyone spending a day in a Bellingham park that can be, in some way, assessed to be “camping.”
Options for providing public comment and contacting Bellingham elected officials are provided at the bottom of this post. The duration of the public comment period during a public hearing is not being limited by Bellingham City Council at this time. Any number of speakers can have 3 minutes each to comment on the subject matter relevant to the hearing topic.
The first Public Hearing (22982), on Monday night is a revision in COB municipal code specific to Parks, Cemeteries, Public Spaces. It was not listed in the title of the agenda item for the public hearing, except within a generic reference to “Other Updates.” The revision related to camping was noted by a community member who read through the full ordinance revisions. As always, we are lucky for the efforts and level of engagement from our friends and neighbors here in Whatcom County!
Here is a link to a copy of the ordinance with code revisions:
The Parks Department did, though, alert people that code changes would be happening for “Electric-Assisted Bicycles on Trails, Prohibiting Drones and Smoking, Reducing Speed Limits,” plus generally mentioning “Other Updates.” During the presentation regarding the code changes to Bellingham City Council Members on May 10, 2021 by Parks Department staff, the changes regarding camping on City park property was not mentioned by either staff or in any comments or discussion by City Council Members.
Here is a link to the May 10, 2021 City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Committee meeting: https://meetings.cob.org/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=2451&doctype=1
Additionally, the “whereas” section of the ordinance references many other of the code revisions being made, but there is nothing about the one related to the current overnight camping prohibition.
Bellingham Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Oliver said that a public hearing was not required for any of the revisions being proposed, however she felt there may be content (presumably the content that was actually mentioned) that she thought a lot of community members may care about, so she left scheduling a public hearing to Council discretion, and they did subsequently schedule the hearing.
Till now, Bellingham Municipal Code, section 8.04.080 has prohibited “overnight camping” without a permit. Proposed revisions have been inserted that would change that prohibition to simply that of “camping” at a City park without written permission.
Could you incur a civil infraction then, if you have a tent or other temporary awning, and/or are sleeping outside, and/or have a certain amount or type of supplies or possessions with you? We don’t know, because there is no definition of camping provided in the ordinance, or in Bellingham Municipal Code. Plus, dictionary definitions don’t provide specific guidance either.
On the other hand, the words “overnight camping” have proved to be a useful distinction for community members without a home who have few other places to stay during daytime hours, such as happened during the current pandemic for people without homes who found indoor spaces to rest to be in short supply.
When homeless camps were being swept earlier this year, BPD officers were actually stationed at some park locations, and tried to inform people they couldn’t come into a park to camp. But with the prohibition presently being against overnight camping, it should not restrict people from entering a park with a tent, and/or awning, and/or belongings, to rest, sleep, eat, use bathroom facilities, etc.
There could also be impacts to youth who may have gotten kicked out of their home for the day, or longer, and grabbed belonging to spend the day in a public area. It can impact BIPOC in our parks, who data shows, are more likely to be racially profiled. In these ways, there is potential for negative community impacts.
Anyone wishing to provide testimony during a public hearing, or during the general public comment period, is invited to do so. Advanced testimony is encouraged and can be presented to the Council by mail (210 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225), online (for a public hearing: https://cob.org/gov/public/public-hearing-testimony; for general public comment: https://engagebellingham.org/council-public-comment), or by telephone (360-778-8200). For live testimony, pre-registration through the sign-up link (https://cob.org/ccsignup) is encouraged but not required. Anyone wishing to testify live during the meeting can join the remote meeting at the following link: https://cob.org/cczoom.
Those who would like to listen in by phone can do so using any of the following phone numbers:
Bellingham Mayor and City Council:
Seth Fleetwood <email@example.com>;
Entire Council (for the record): <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hannah E. Stone <email@example.com>;
Hollie A. Huthman <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Michael W. Lilliquist <email@example.com>;
Daniel C. Hammill <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Lisa A. Anderson <email@example.com>;
Gene R. Knutson <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Pinky T. Vargas <email@example.com>
Seth Fleetwood (Mayor) – (360) 778-8100
Hannah Stone (1st Ward) – (360) 778-8211
Gene Knutson (2nd Ward) – (360) 733-1640
Daniel Hammill (3rd Ward) l – (360) 778-8213
Pinky Vargas (4th Ward) – (360) 778-8210
Lisa Anderson (5th Ward) – (360) 778-8217
Michael Lilliquist (6th Ward) – (360) 778-8212 and 360-920-2684
Hollie Huthman (At-Large) – (360) 778-8216
Nicole Oliver, Director, Parks and Recreation Department:
Phone: (360) 778-7100