AURORA | A panel of Aurora lawmakers on Thursday gave the latest turn of the screw to a proposed camping ban ordinance introduced by Mayor Mike Coffman, volleying the measure to the full council next month.
Council members Dave Gruber and Marsha Berzins, who sit on the city’s public safety policy committee, gave a thumbs up to a slightly amended version of the proposed ban, contrasting a vote of no confidence issued by members of the city’s housing committee earlier this month.
Council member Curtis Gardner, who also sits on the committee, did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
Unlike at the state legislature, votes issued by municipal committee members are not binding, and council members maintain the ability to bring a measure straight to the full council at any time.
Coffman struck a series of stipulations previously listed in the measure, broadening the scope of encampments that can be dismantled. The original proposal largely mirrored the standing ban in Denver, requiring officials to cite any one of about a dozen conditions needed to disassemble a camp.
“I stripped that section out because an unauthorized camp is simply prohibited in my ordinance and no further test should be required before being able to order an abatement,” Coffman tweeted on June 10.
Officials would still only be able to dismantle a camp if the city could offer alternative shelter to all people currently residing there. Enforcers would also have to give a minimum of a three-day written and verbal notice before clearing a camp, though staffers suggested most notices will give people seven days to leave the area. Authorities would technically have up to 10 days to disassemble a camp after an initial notice is posted in the event of inclement weather, and outreach workers would be tasked with visiting the camp while such notices are up to try to convince people to move to other shelter options in the area.
Officials clarified that a consortium of city staffers would likely be tasked with removing camps, including those from Aurora police, the homeless outreach team, code enforcement and the parks department.
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Arapahoe County Sheriff Typer Brown earlier this month expressed trepidation about Coffman’s proposal, with Wilson lamenting the optics of police sweeping homeless people and Brown warning against a possible surge in jail population as a result of the measure.
Staffers have received more than 900 complaints related to encampments in Aurora in the past year, and workers have removed ad hoc structures from 29 areas, according to city documents.
The recent abatement efforts have been afforded to the city under COVID-19 emergency declarations, which technically ended at the city-level earlier this month. But staffers said the city will likely continue to find ways to tear down camps notwithstanding Coffman’s ordinance.
“With COVID sort of winding down, the city is looking to have the policies not reflective of COVID, but just reflective of general times,” Jessica Prosser, director of the city’s housing and human services department said. “And so with or without this ordinance the city is looking to have a policy in place that is refined to eliminate that COVID piece of it that would just speak to encampments and clean up as needed when they meet that criteria.”
Still, Coffman lobbied for his proposal by saying that a codification of the abatement protocols will ensure they remain in place as political attitudes shift on the dais.
“This takes away the discretion,” Coffman said. “Unauthorized camping is unauthorized camping, otherwise it’s up to the bureaucracy to interpret that, and that could change as personalities change within the government. So I think this sets a very clear direction.”
Berzins agreed, and lauded Coffman for bringing the measure forward.
“Mayor, you ruffled a lot of feathers when you brought this, but it did start the conversation,” she said. “ … I do think starting this conversation and seeing what we can do to help and aid is the compassionate thing to do.”
Coffman has said the full council will likely discuss the measure at a study session on July 19. It could get its first formal vote the following week.