Released Thursday, the latest draft of the ordinance calls on police to de-prioritize enforcement of parking penalties involving participants in a yet-to-be-established program for homeless vehicle dwellers.
Days after an early version was leaked and widely circulated, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien on Thursday sought to clarify a controversial new proposal for how city officials respond to the hundreds of homeless people living in their vehicles.
Released by O’Brien Thursday, the latest draft of the ordinance calls on police to de-prioritize enforcement of parking penalties involving participants in a yet-to-be-established program for homeless vehicle dwellers.
Under the program, police would be free to exempt participants in good standing from several different parking ordinances. That includes laws allowing cops to boot and tow vehicles whose owners have four or more unpaid parking tickets, and rules forcing parked vehicles to be moved every 72 hours.
The aim, O’Brien said, is to provide targeted services for people looking to transition out of homelessness. The ordinance will free them from racking up parking-related fines and penalties that often prevent the homeless from securing apartment residences, he said.
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“We’re not waiving parking restrictions or parking enforcement on any subset of the population,” he said. “If you are constructively participating in the program, we would work to be flexible.”
The program would create between 40 and 50 safe-parking zones scattered throughout the city. Each one would be small in scope and accommodate around six vehicles.
The ordinance also calls for police to create protocols for tracking vehicles being used as residences, and an amnesty period for participants who have received multiple parking fines.
Still, key aspects of the program have yet to be worked out. Details like where exactly in the city participants in the program will be allowed to park their vehicles free from restrictions are yet to be determined, O’Brien acknowledged.
O’Brien said his office will work to refine the ordinance with police and other city departments that will have a hand in designing and administering the program.
O’Brien’s news conference follows days of speculation over the legislation’s details.
Former special adviser to Mayor Ed Murray and current candidate for city attorney, Scott Lindsay, posted the draft to his campaign site on Monday. Lindsay is running to unseat current Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.
The move immediately created a stir. On Wednesday following the leak, representatives from several organizations came to a City Council briefing to speak about the proposal.
Phil Cochran needled O’Brien personally, asking “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies?”
Others speaking in support of the ordinance said that despite the collapse of previous efforts by the city to create safe zones for vehicle dwellers, the time has come to try again.
Under the pressure of complaints from city residents over sanitation and safety of RVs, Mayor Ed Murray in 2016 issued an executive order creating several “safe lots” for people living in their vehicles. But city officials eventually pulled the plug amid rising costs.
The number of people using their vehicles as residences has increased in the months since. A 2017 count of the county’s homeless found around 900 vehicles being used as residences in Seattle.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Phil Cochran is a member of Safe Seattle.