In a surprise move, the Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday voted to table until March 26 an amendment to an existing ordinance aimed at giving police authority to ticket and impound recreational vehicles parked on city streets.
The amendment was suggested by the Colorado Springs Police Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT Team) as a way to deal with people living in RVs parking near public parks and in industrial/commercial areas.
Issues of trash, barking dogs and dumping of raw sewage from RV holding tanks directly into the storm sewers, as well as complaints from business owners that RVs are surrounding their businesses and adversely affecting trade were part of the impetus for the ordinance.
The existing ordinance bans street RV parking only in residential areas. The amendment would expand this to all city streets, highways, alleys or other public right of way for “a period of time greater than that necessary for the expeditious loading and unloading of passengers or property.”
Mayor Suthers’ Chief of Staff Jeff Greene said, “It’s not like we’re creating a new ordinance. [The existing ordinance] protects the residential property owners. But we’re discriminating against our commercial businesses.”
During the citizen comment period homeless advocates and private citizens asked the Council to delay the decision until a plan to deal with this contingent of homeless persons is considered.
Douglas Sharp, a member of the Colorado Springs Faith Table said, “Increasingly, this Council has passed ordinances and laws that deny the rights of those who are homeless and criminalize the necessary behaviors of anyone who does not have permanent housing.”
Questions were raised about the impact of the amendment on tourism and visitors to the city driving RVs who might wish to park while visiting. Restricting parking to loading and unloading only raised the issue of potential selective enforcement favoring tourists.
Commander Sean Mandel from the HOT Team said that the intent of enforcement is to gain cooperation and issue tickets if necessary. The ordinance does provide for impoundment of illegally-parked RVs.
Concerned about waterway pollution from sewage dumping, Councilmember David Geislinger said, “The city is not doing its job if it doesn’t address the public health and safety issue.”
He called upon the faith community to step up and help solve the problem. “We need to have your participation in this. The city cannot resolve this issue without your participation. It is not helpful to say ‘find a place for these people to stay when the city does not have that place.’”
Councilmembers Andy Pico, Merv Bennett, Don Knight and Tom Strand echoed the health and safety concerns and urged passage of the amendment.
Councilmember Bill Murray said, “We just spent half a million dollars on low-barrier shelters. I consider RVs low-barrier shelters, but in the wrong place. You can’t impound somebody’s home. That is the antithesis of being American, my goodness. Give them opportunities to go somewhere else. Help them find another place.”
Councilmember Yolanda Avila vigorously opposed the amendment. “I think it’s immoral to take people’s homes and all their belongings. They’re our neighbors, they’re our residents, they’re our community,” said Avila “I can’t believe that this is happening here in our city. We are treating our population experiencing homelessness as second-class citizens. We have to come up with a better solution.”
Councilmember David Geislinger and Council President Richard Skorman both pledged to vote for the amendment if there is no participation in resolving the issue by the faith community by March 26.
The motion to table passed 5-4 with Councilmen Bennett, Knight, Pico, and Strand voting against the delay.