Many questions lingered Tuesday night as Puyallup City Council members deliberated changing the city’s trespass policy, prompting them to delay a vote.
Residents questioned whether the ordinance meant to crack down on troublemakers at public facilities such as the library would allow staff to target homeless people.
Although most council members dismissed that fear, many wanted more clarity before moving forward.
The proposal was introduced last month, prompted by an assault at the library late last year. It would expand on a policy the city has deemed inflexible in dealing with people “whose behavior is dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other users,” the proposed ordinance states.
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City Manager Kevin Yamamoto stressed Tuesday that the proposal isn’t about targeting certain people or curbing an extensive problem. It’s about updating an outdated ordinance in the city code.
“This is not based on status of human beings. This is based on conduct,” Yamamoto said. “It’s not who you are. It’s what you do.”
Advocates for the homeless who spoke Tuesday night weren’t convinced.
Cheryl Borden, manager of the New Hope Resource Center, said she feared the proposal could be used in “an arbitrary manner that would target our homeless citizens.”
Ted Brackman, a longtime advocate for Puyallup’s homeless, said homeless individuals use public facilities more than anyone else, and the ordinance is too vague.
“It leaves a lot of discretion to the people who are enforcing this,” he said. “The result will be more criminalization of the homeless community.”
Shawn Arthur, senior assistant city attorney, emphasized that staff “narrowed the focus” of the ordinance, allowing more flexibility for length of time violators could be banned from city property and who would have authority ban them.
The city manager, or a staff member designated by the city manager, would have authority to issue trespass orders.
Council members appeared supportive of the new policy’s intent but wanted more information before voting.
Councilman John Hopkins said the fear of targeting the homeless is a “red herring,” and it’s the city’s job to make sure facilities are “user-friendly.”
Councilwoman Heather Shadko said the added burden of reviewing trespass orders could become overwhelming for the city manager.
Councilman Tom Swanson said discretion for those enforcing the rule is key, since violators will range from noisy kids to actual law-breakers.
Council members Julie Door and John Palmer stressed the importance of a clear appeals process for alleged violators.
Councilman Steve Vermillion wasn’t convinced that the courts should be involved with appeals.
Mayor John Knutsen said he’s uncomfortable giving staff members broad enforcement authority.