The Fort Collins City Council is scheduled to consider new rules for public behavior in their March 7 meeting. Homeless advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, think the ordinance would be selectively enforced, while city officials maintain they are trying to keep public spaces safe and accessible to everyone.
What are the proposed changes?
Of the restrictions under consideration, some would be citywide, while others would only apply in the Old Town area from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. People experiencing a medical emergency, children in designated play areas and licensed vendors or performances like festivals or parades would be exempted.
These restrictions would be citywide:
- Sitting, kneeling or lying in a public restroom or within 10 feet of a restroom entrance or exit, except on a designated seat, such as a toilet or bench.
- Sitting, kneeling or lying on any area not designed for sitting in a transit center, or on public property within 20 feet of a transit facility.
The proposed boundaries for the Old Town restrictions are the same as the downtown smoke-free zone. These are the restrictions:
- Sitting or lying on a public sidewalk or plaza.
- Sitting or lying on things not designed for sitting or lying, such as planters and flower beds.
- Leaving personal property on city-owned property such as sidewalks, plazas, parking spaces and landscaped areas.
Why are these changes being considered?
The proposed policy changes are in response to complaints from Old Town businesses and results from a 2015 resident survey, according to city policy and project manager Ginny Sawyer.
“The three most reported disruptive behaviors [in the 2015 survey] were panhandling, groups or individuals sitting or lying on sidewalks and then just aggressive or intimidating behavior,” Sawyer said. “The city really put effort into increasing resources including overnight shelters, downtown police presence and in creating the Outreach Fort Collins team.”
Sawyer said the city is continuing to receive complaints of people “sitting or lying for long periods of time in the downtown area.”
The Fort Collins Police Department is part of the discussion with city officials.
How would the new rules be enforced?
Any new regulation would be enforced between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 a.m., which could mean a lot of police time, though in documents provided to the city council, staff states that the ordinance is “not expected to have an appreciable impact on the city’s budget.”
Legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado Mark Silverstein, said that the proposed changes wouldn’t be enforced equally.
"It targets homeless people for behavior that perhaps everyone engages in but it will selectively be enforced against the homeless. I'm certainly hoping that city officials can be persuaded that this is not a good idea," Silverstein said.
According to Sawyer, the proposed regulatory changes have nothing to do with homelessness.
“We’re not asking people if they are homeless in terms of enforcement, we are looking at behaviors,” she said. “We’ve worked hard with this community and with the business community to provide additional resources to address homelessness in a compassionate way. So I think these are separate issues.”
The ordinance is up for first consideration at the March 7 meeting at 6 p.m. It could be adopted then, or could have a second reading by the council at a later date.