Today, Canyon City Commissioners will consider voting to ban camping or sleeping on public property in Canyon. This extremely broad proposed ordinance does not exactly detail what would qualify as camping under the new law, but those in violation would be fined $500 per day of violation with possible forced removal of personal belongings, tents and bedding. According to a memo from the director of Code Enforcement for the City of Canyon to the Canyon city manager, the ordinance is modeled off of Amarillo's controversial ban on public property camping.
In the opinion of this writer, the Amarillo ordinance is an extremely dangerous piece of legislation that should never have been considered in the first place. The reason is not that camping on public property should be encouraged, but rather that the ordinance has become an easy way for City staff to selectively enforce on individuals deemed to be "camping" on private property. Please note the term "camping" should be used loosely, as individuals deemed in this category have ranged all the way from sleeping in the dirt to sleeping in recreational vehicles behind fenced areas.
The Amarillo ordinance has also led to the incarceration of individuals unable to pay fines. Through the Amarillo Municipal Court - which, itself, is in desperate need of reform - individuals have essentially been jailed for being indigent. This issue itself was contested as part of a federal lawsuit several years ago.
City staff in Canyon should be questioned for the validity of even considering such an ordinance. According to available information from the municipal court in Canyon, a violation of the proposed camping ban would carry a penalty of the maximum monetary fine allowed for a Class C misdemeanor. In this case, it does seem that the City of Canyon would indeed be putting undue burden on those who are homeless or those who may or may not fit the criteria of "camping."
This proposed ordinance in Canyon is extremely dangerous in that the broad way that it is written allows for selective interpretation by whoever is enforcing it. The proposed ordinance specifically states that no equipment is required to be considered camping, but that some items, such as toilets, cooking utensils and bedrolls, may be present. However, this leaves quite a bit of ambiguity in the ordinance. If a person is in possession of cooking utensils at a municipal facility after 6pm, does that mean the person is camping? While the definition of sleeping is undeniable, the word "camping," as it is used in Canyon's ordinance, leaves room for interpretation and error.
If local government has proved anything over the past 12 months, it has been just how irresponsible and unaccountable government officials are when believing that they are operating in secrecy. Let's hope that the City Commission in Canyon kills this ordinance to avoid even more room for error by those who enforce ordinances.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief