Tacoma City Council votes yes on Camping Ban Ordinance

On October 11, community members gathered for a council meeting regarding Ordinance 28831 in regards to a camping ban.

In a 6-3 vote, tensions arose on October 11 as Tacoma City Council voted to pass Ordinance 28831. The ordinance, which goes into effect November 14, was proposed by Council Member John Hines back in September and will prohibit camping and the storage of personal belongings within a 10-block radius around temporary shelters. 

There were a variety of individuals who came out in support or disapproval of the ordinance. Members of the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), college students, teachers and concerned citizens spoke in the public forum that was held. Mayor Victoria Woodards commented on the number of attendees in the audience.

“I haven’t seen these chambers this full in the past two and a half years,” Woodards said. 

Those in attendance who partook in the public comment voiced their frustrations with the situation. There were individuals upset that the city would ban camping and felt that this ordinance would target houseless individuals, seeing those who violate the ban could be ticketed with a fine and potential jail time. Others noted this ban could potentially push those in need further out from city limits and away from resources they may need to seek help. There were also homeowners who voiced their frustrations with the city for doing little about encampments in neighborhoods. 

Before the vote was called, amendments were made to the ordinance. These amendments extended the radius of areas where camping will be restricted, added a ban on camping 200 feet near waterways such as rivers, creeks and shorelines, and a reduction on the fines people could receive from violating the ban from a $1000 fine to $250.  

Photo from the City of Tacoma | A map of the areas where camping is prohibited.

Council member Kristina Walker included an amendment that would provide an evaluation on this ordinance over the next couple of years to 2024. This amendment would provide the city with data regarding how many individuals took part in services offered before and after, how many shelters and parking spaces were created before and after the ban, along with statistics and data from police and law enforcement regarding the enforcement of this ordinance. 

Mayor Woodards included their own amendment that would move the enforcement date from October 31 to November 14, to coincide with the opening of a new low barrier shelter near 34th and Pacific Avenue.  

Council members then addressed the chambers individually and addressed their reasons for either supporting or not supporting the ordinance. Deputy Mayor Catherine Ushka summarized her thoughts on the ordinance. 

“I don’t think we can enforce it or that it will work, and I think it will only move people deeper and deeper into neighborhoods,” Ushka said. 

Photo by Destiny Valencia | A protest sign involving the Camping Ban.

Council member Hines addressed his support of the ordinance and noted the city council’s work over the years, such as creating more shelters and a sales tax supporting affordable housing in Tacoma. 

“Encampments are an issue; encampments lead to an increase in emergency calls and complaints. Residents in encampments are preyed upon and in increased risk of assault, sexual assault, and premature death… encampments are not a safe healthy place for anyone,” Hines said. 

The vote then passed 6-3 with Deputy Mayor Ushka, Council Members Blocker and Daniels voting against, and Council Members Bushnell, Diaz, Hines, Rumbaugh, Walker, and Mayor Woodards in support. 

“When we evaluate this in three months, we will make changes,” Mayor Woodards said. 

Individuals walked out of the chambers in disappointment after the vote, yelling words such as “shame,” and booing the council regarding the results. 

Tacoma resident Venus Dergan expressed her relief at the passing of the ordinance.

“I feel relieved, because this is going to help the 69th and Proctor location, it’s in a secluded area and has been subject to a lot of problems from outside influences and we’ve been struggling with it since its opening and trying to get help to resolve the issues has been very difficult,” Dergan said. 

When asked, Mayor Woodards commented on their feelings regarding their vote. 

“I’m still torn, because my goal is to hear from everyone and try to make decisions that are inclusive of everything we hear,” Woodards said. 

Woodards noted that while there may have been more in attendance who spoke against the ban, not everyone partakes in a public forum discussion.  

“I think it’s a step, and I think we have to try something. I am reluctantly supportive. We want to make sure that we are following this with the data piece to make sure that there is no harm being done and if the kind of harm that has been described tonight appears in any way or begins to happen, we will reverse course. But I hope that this will help us in some way,” Woodards said. 

Ordinance 28831 begins in effect starting November 14 with notices posted in restricted areas two weeks prior.  

If you would like to read more about the ordinance, you can visit the city council’s website for more details.