63°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Las Vegas camping ban expanded with sidewalk cleaning restriction

Updated January 15, 2020 - 9:33 pm

Las Vegas policymakers on Wednesday expanded a controversial ban on camping and sleeping in public to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned, an action castigated by homeless advocates as another move to criminalize the less fortunate.

When sidewalk cleaning is in effect, it will be a misdemeanor crime to camp, sleep, lie, sit or otherwise obstruct city efforts to sanitize the sidewalks, according to language in the bill.

The city’s chief of Department of Operations and Maintenance, who is authorized to designate hours for cleaning public sidewalks, will be required to post signs or markings to give notice of those hours.

The City Council enacted the ordinance by a 5-2 vote without discussion. Councilwoman Olivia Diaz and Councilman Brian Knudsen, both of whom voted late last year to oppose the broader camping ban, which is contingent on shelter availability, also voted against the sidewalk-cleaning ordinance.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman sponsored the new bill, casting it as necessary to ensure a sanitary community and urging the advocates to get involved with city efforts to help the homeless.

Many said they are involved, however, and one advocate, Nathaniel Phillipps, was clear: “We know more than you on this issue.”

Speaking to the city’s broader effort to address the multifaceted homelessness problem, Goodman has described the newest ordinance as “pretty perfunctory,” saying that sidewalk cleaning is necessary to remove urine, feces, needles and other waste and to protect homeless individuals and the public.

Otherwise, she said last month, “you’re just waiting for a really terrible disease to strike the community.”

City officials have maintained they are trying to stave off a public health crisis amid the rise of homeless encampments in downtown. But critics, who also condemned the camping ban approved in early November, renewed previous arguments Wednesday that city policy is endangering and unfairly targeting a vulnerable population.

Misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. But advocates pressed city officials to make it easier for homeless people to cope with the law by reducing the severity of the penalty, which they noted was more stringent than parking fines.

“If a person can’t afford to eat, they can’t afford $1,000 or a misdemeanor,” said Carmella Gadsen, a staff member with Battle Born Progress. “We are advocating for people who have nothing.”

The ACLU joined other nonprofit groups and individuals protesting the ordinance outside City Hall before the start of the meeting.

The ordinance enacted Wednesday does not explicitly define the zones — downtown or residential — where enforcement will occur.

It also does not provide an estimated frequency or duration for sidewalk cleaning nor detail whether offenders would receive warnings before enforcement — an element present in the first camping ban.

The City Council voted 5-2 on Nov. 6 to outlaw camping and sleeping in public areas downtown, and in residential areas throughout the city if there are beds available at established homeless shelters. The ordinance went into effect nearly immediately, but the criminal component is not being enforced until Feb. 1.

City officials have stressed that a ban on camping in public areas is not unique, with many other communities across the country having similar ordinances on the books.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
RJ Politics Podcast with Deval Patrick - VIDEO
2020 Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick joins hosts Rory Appleton and Steve Sebelius on the RJ Politics Podcast.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg Speaks At Black Empowerment Event - Video
Pete Buttigieg speaks at a black empowerment event to talk about his Douglass plan.
Joe Biden at the national hospitality workers union.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the national hospitality workers union during UNITE HERE's town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren at Culinary Union
Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Culinary Union town hall in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2019.
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
THE LATEST
Foreign delegations tour tech hub in downtown Las Vegas

Las Vegas city officials welcomed delegations from six countries to its technology-focused coworking space in downtown on Monday, a day before the official start of one of the largest consumer electronic shows in the U.S.