Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration wants to put a law on the books that prohibits camping or storing personal belongings in the public right-of-way.
To that end, at its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works will consider a resolution that asks the city council to consider a new ordinance against camping in the public right-of-way.
It’s part of a general effort that the administration is now making, to regulate occupancy of public property—in light of its use by many members of the city’s unhoused community.
In addition to the resolution to be considered by the board of public works on Tuesday, the board of park commissioners is set on Wednesday to consider a change in the current policy on tents in parks during the day. Tents are currently allowed.
But under a proposed policy change to be considered at Wednesday’s special board of park commissioners meeting, tents and other “enclosed structures” would be prohibited in public parks. However, “shade structures” would still be allowed.
The draft ordinance that the board of public works will consider recommending to the city council states: “It is unlawful to camp in the right-of-way, store personal property in the right-of-way, or otherwise block the right-of-way in a manner that obstructs pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic, or public travel on any sidewalk, street, or other public right-of-way.”
The penalties that are associated with violating the ordinance are the general fines prescribed in Bloomington city code. That means someone can be fined up to $2,500 for camping in the public right-of-way.
But the idea behind the ordinance does not appear to be to achieve unobstructed right-of-way through the threat of a fine.
Instead, the ordinance is supposed to make crystal clear the city’s legal ability to immediately remove tents or belongings that are obstructing the right-of-way for use by the general public.
At Monday’s board of public works work session, public works director Adam Wason told the board the ordinance stems in part from a situation along Kirkwood Avenue where an entire sidewalk was blocked.
On that occasion, Wason said after Bloomington police spoke with the prosecutor’s office, they concluded they did not have the ability to take immediate action to clear the sidewalk. Wason told the board, “The entire sidewalk was completely blocked. It was about 90 percent blocked.” He described the obstruction like this: “It was belongings, it was a tent, it was people.”
Based on the wording of the draft ordinance, some board of public works members wondered if the ordinance could also be used to prosecute the blockage of sidewalks and ADA ramps by shared e-scooters.
The answer from city attorney Mike Rouker and director of public works Adam Wason was the same: Scooters have their own set of rules; and the proposed new ordinance about obstructing the right-of-way is not meant to be applied to scooters.
Also on the Tuesday night meeting agenda for the board of public works is the approval of contracts for three e-scooter companies.