YAKIMA, Wash. — Saying the city’s newly approved ban on camping on public property is stupid, two private attorneys this morning pitched a tent in front of their North Second Street law office a half block from City Hall.
Adopted by the City Council last night, the ordinance bans unauthorized camping and leaving possessions unattended on city-owned property such as sidewalks, alleys, trails and streets. Under the ordinance, those activities are now a criminal misdemeanor, and violators could face up to 90 days in jail or up to a $1,000 fine.
Attorneys Robin Emmans and Ulvar Klein disagree with the ordinance saying it’s not only a waste of time, but will only cost the city money to enforce.
“It’s a stupid bluff,” Klein said at his law office this morning. “Are we going to put people in jail for leaving a backpack on public property?”
Emmans said propping the tent was a “lighthearted” way to “raise attention to the ignorance in it all.”
“We thought it was a dumb ordinance and we have an equal response,” she said.
Although Senior Assistant City Attorney Sara Watkins said the ordinance wasn’t intended to target the homeless, some in the audience at the City Council meeting disagreed.
The ordinance comes after a homeless encampment on East Chestnut Avenue was recently moved to a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Yakima Police Department at the corner of Third and Walnut streets. Because that move was approved by the city, it is not affected by the new ordinance.
The Chestnut Avenue encampment began last spring, when several homeless people began taking refuge on a narrow strip of public property between a sidewalk and street. By late last month, the encampment had grown more than 50 people living in about two dozen tents.
Citing previous court rulings, city officials said they couldn’t remove the encampment without providing the homeless an alternative site.
Emmans and Klein admit their effort won’t change anything, but expresses how the city “is taking the natural desire to criminalise everything.”