Vancouver Proposes New Parks Ordinance

by lewwaters

Written and submitted by Bob Koski

I keep a close eye on the doings of our local government here in Vancouver, Washington, and out City Council Critters in particular. Wednesday the new agenda for the upcoming Monday night City Council meeting was published an there is one item on it that caught my eye and triggered disbelief and outrage the further I read. Among the many changes that are being made, an entire new enforcement mechanism is being created along with making the local Parks Director a defacto “Park Czar” and giving that person the same authorities as local Police have when it comes to the Park.

I have a lot of problems with this whole document, but only a couple of issues to present for discussion out of a mult-page document. Most of the changes are in fact relatively minor in nature, but the City is sneaking in a couple of real doozies here and I am looking for advice on how to proceed.

The entire City of Vancouver Staff Report No. 148-11 I am referencing here can be found at the following link. Proposed changes are underlined.

http://www.cityofvancouver.us/upload/images/Gov/Council2011/2_SR148-11.pdf

Section 15.04.040 Removal or Destruction of park property. (Newly added text reads:) Provided, however, that maintenance activities in any park may be authorized with the prior written consent of the director.

Section 15.04.130 Tobacco products,
(New Section in its’ entirety) No person shall smoke or use any form of tobacco in any park.

Section 15. 04.050 Dogs (New added text reads:) B. The director may prohibit dogs, except dog guides or service animals, as defined by Ch. 70.84 RCW, from entering or being present in areas that are designated and posted as such.

Section 15.04.170 Exclusion from parks (New Section)

A. In addition to any other penalty authorized under this chapter any employee authorized by the director or any other law enforcement officer may exclude, by delivering an exclusion notice in person or by first class mail to the offender, from a park, any person who, while in the park:

1. Violates any provisions within this chapter.
2. Violates any park rule adopted by the director, or
3. Violates any provision of the Vancouver Municipal Code, or any provision of the Revised Code of Washington.

The offender need not be charged, tried or convicted of any crime or infraction in order for an exclusion notice to be issued or effective. The exclusion may be based upon observation by the director, or upon the sort of civilian reports that would ordinarily be relied upon by police officers in the determination of probable cause.

B. Lengths of exclusion (First time 1 week exclusion, 2nd time in a year, 30 days exclusion, 3rd time in a year 1 year exclusion)

C. Exclusion Notice. The exclusion notice shall be in writing and shall contain the date of issuance. The exclusion notice shall specify the length and places of exclusion. The exclusion notice shall be signed by the issuing individual. The exclusion notice shall be delivered to the excluded individual in person or sent by certified mail to the excluded individual’s last known address. Warning of the consequences for failure to comply shall be prominently displayed on the notice.

D. Only the Hearing Officer after a hearing may rescind or shorten an exclusion notice.

E. Hearings (the whole section is just wrong, but section 3 is particularly bad)

3. At the hearing, the violation must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence in order to uphold the exclusion notice. If the exclusion notice was issued because of the alleged violation of any criminal law, the offender need not be charged, tried, or convicted for the exclusion notice to be upheld. The exclusion notice establishes a prima facie case that the offender committed the violation as described. The Hearing Officer shall consider a sworn report or a declaration under penalty of perjury as authorized by RCW 9A.72.085, written by the individual who issued the exclusion notice, without further evidentiary foundation. The certifications in Rule 6.13 of the Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction shall be considered without further evidentiary foundation. The Hearing Officer may consider information that would not be admissible under the evidence rules in a court of law which the Hearing Officer considers relevant and trustworthy.

H. This section shall be enforced so as to emphasize voluntary compliance with laws and park rules, and so that inadvertent minor violations that would fall under subsection B1 of this section can be corrected without resort to an exclusion notice.

**SCHNIPP**

Enough of that. I do not want to overwhelm anyone, but I think you can see that this document has some very big constitutional problems, and in fact is a solution going looking for a problem. Let’s try and look at this under some other lens besides the “Occupy” movement, because we have had no such problems like that, and this has nothing to do with it.

The most obvious question is how will they enforce a no-smoking ban? The answer is by criminalizing that behavior with a system of anonymous and draconian exclusions that can simply be mailed to your last known address. Any burden of proof is on you, and the exclusion goes into effect immediately and is active even if you appeal it.

What is particularly troublesome are the provisions that forbid “maintenance” of any kind in the parks without prior written consent of the Director. I have direct experience with that “maintenance” because the City quit doing any in our parks over a year ago to save money. When the civilians started kicking in on their own to collect leaves, mow grass and prune overgrown shrubs, this Ordinance is the reaction. The City claims that running a lawnmower or a leaf blower, or any other “power tools” in a City park is a liability so great that it has to be stopped. (In reality I believe the City cannot be seen to sanction any work that they cannot or will not pay their Union employees to perform, but that is a separate rant…)

Not only will the City of Vancouver not do park maintenance, they are going to try and legally prevent anyone else from doing it too, by making leaf collection or lawn mowing a violation serious enough to require exclusion from the parks, and for that activity to be considered a misdemeanor unless the Lord Director grants their permission.

This is all being done very casually and under the guise of minor administrative changes. In reality this is the most draconian document I have seen come out of our City in a while. The last time they tried to do something like this, Vancouver City Council announced they were going to try and ban pit bulls in the parks. Hundreds of Pitty owners around the City rose up with their dogs and raised hell about it, and Council backed down. Council also wanted to try and ban handguns in the City parks until someone pointed out that open carry is completely legal in Washington and their ban was unconstitutional in more ways than one, so they dropped it too.

Now we get this!

Suddenly we need some high paid appointed Parks Director, who does not answer to the voters in any way, to have police powers (it is in the ordinance language) and hand out these draconian exclusions like candy at Halloween. What’s more, once you set foot in one of the City’s Parks, the City seems to think you abrogate all of your Constitutional rights.

I’m at a real loss on how to go about trying to correct this. I’ve already fired off e-mails to the usual suspects but they rarely like hearing from the little people here and anyone who complains about what they do is labeled with any number of nastily creative names, such as “Hounds of Whinerville”. Well this Hound is ready for something, but whining ain’t it. I’m open to advice and suggestions, and already the first thing on my list is “Lawsuit” followed closely by “Attorney”…

I’m madder than hell about this, and my wife asked me three times if I took my BP meds today…looking for some decent ideas about how to go about shutting this thing down before its too late.

14 Responses to “Vancouver Proposes New Parks Ordinance”

  1. It’s “interesting” how the Elitists try to end-run the Constitution with “Administrative Rules”. Perhaps the biggest example of end-running the Constitution was started with “Child Support” years ago. Constitutionally that whole process is totally illegal, but no one has yet tried to challenge it on the grounds of the 13th and 14th Amendments.

    The park rules “changes” need to be challenged and beaten in court, but it’s amazing in the first place that the Elitists would try to grab that much power to begin with.

    I guess it just further demonstrates how totally out-of-control and tyrannical government has become.

    “Closer to a bloody Revolution we march…”.

  2. They put the term class into the waterfront shoreline management act…
    Are we really going to let them get away with stealing our freedom people?

  3. Thanks for putting this up Lew!

    Another troubling point on this Ordinance is language that says the Parks Director, or their designated representative, will carry out the enforcement action. Just who are these “designated representatives” going to be??

    In the City of Portland, they have full time Park Rangers on City payroll that do nothing but patrol their public parks and write out citations for any ‘violations” they find.

    I know a couple who live in Portland and have 2 dogs. Last summer Mike took the dogs to their local park as he usually does. There is a no dogs section of the park. Mike tossed a dog toy a bit too hard one morning, and one of his dogs went over into the no-dog portion of the park to retrieve it and came right back to Mike.

    Suddenly, he saw some guy leap out of a pickup truck by the curb, and come running over to him. It was a Portland Park Ranger, and he wrote Mike over $900 worth of citations on the spot. The first was a $250 ticket because his dog was in the no-dogs part of the park, and several more violations because neither dog had their collar on, and so neither had a dog license or a rabies tag, both violations for each dog. Mike ended up walking home with 5 citations whose fines added up to just over $900.

    Is that where the City of Vancouver wants to go with this?? Is this Ordinance going to lead to the hiring of as may “designated representatives” as The Director may require to patrol the parks and enforce the law??

    I walk my dog in the park twice a day, and very often we meet up with our neighbors who have dogs as well, and we all let our dogs play together for a few minutes, off the leash. Nobody lets their dogs roam, and nobody has a problem dog in our group; all of the dogs get along and so do their owners. But if this Ordinance passes, not only will it be a violation to let a dog off the leash in the park, but if the right person complains, the Director will have to authority to declare any park “dog free”, or impose a rigid “dogs only part of a park.

    There are so many things wrong with this Ordinance that it is difficult to list them all here. The City of Vancouver is trying to create an all powerful “Parks Czar” that answers to noone, especially not the voters. This has nothing to do with safety or reducing liability in the park. When was the last time you heard of anyone being injured by a leaf blower??

    The City does not enforce many of the laws they already have on the books and creating more laws and rules that cannot be enforced make no sense. It would make even less sense to squander scare City funds to create and empower an entire new bureaucracy in the Parks Department instead of finding a way to help residents take care of their neighborhood parks.

    If this Ordinance passes people are going to be stunned at the result.

  4. I have not yet studied the ordinance in depth, Bob, but did read through it and I share your concerns and a few others.

    We fought last year when they “updated” their parks ordinance to keep free speech free, if you recall (Hansen, Leavitt and Harris voted to place restrictions on such gatherings).

    Of slight concern to me now is reading that while “Expressive Gatherings” remain free in not requiring a permit, I read in Section 15.04.030It is unlawful to place or erect any signboard, sign, billboard, decoration or device of any kind in any park without the prior consent of the director. It is unlawful to place or erect any structure of any kind in any park without the prior consent of the director

    Also, in Section 15.04.070 we read, “Amplified Sound – Permit Required. It is unlawful to operate or use any amplified sound system in any park without a Park and Facility Use Permit issued under this chapter or Special Event permit issued Pursuant to Ch. 5.17 VMC

    Those are the very things “Expressive gatherings” use and do at Esther Short Park.

    What would that do with the Saturday markets who all erect shelters in temporary covers? The “Free Speech Zone” too uses signs and tent structures.

    I’m sure Harris and Leavitt will be quick to claim these “restrictions” do not mean our right to free assembly is impaired, but I read it otherwise. While we would not need a permit to hold gathering in opposition or support of any political nature, we would need a permit in order to use amplifying equipment to be heard or place signs up promoting our views or even place a temporary shelter in the park!

    To me, this is just another back door method to restrict our freedoms in these areas and the areas you have mentioned.

  5. So, my description of Vancouver as “The Soviet Socialist Republic” is, in reality, factual, eh?

    What’s Commissar Leave-it got to say about all this?

  6. Funny you should ask that question K.J. Hinton. I had an e-mail exchange with the Mayor on this very thing back on September 15 of this year, in response to a Letter to the Editor of mine that was published in the Columbian.

    From: Leavitt, Tim
    To: ‘Bob Koski’
    Cc: Holmes, Eric ; Bailey, Judi ; Mayer, Pete ; McConaghy, Rich ; Carlson, Brian ; Kleiner, Jane ; Simpson, Michelle ; Buck, Tim ; Ayers, Barbara ; Smith, Larry ; Burkman, Jack ; Harris, Jeanne ; Stewart, Jeanne ; Hansen, Bart ; Campbell, Pat
    Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 5:32 PM
    Subject: Homestead Park

    Dear Mr. Koski:

    Thank you for your continued interest in Homestead Park. You raised several issues and now have spoken and written individually to numerous people at the City, and we wanted to close the loop with you as a team:

    Yes, public parks, trails, urban open space, rights-of-way and cemeteries have been impacted by budget cuts over the past decade. Neighborhood leaders and citizens have demonstrated their interest in helping to restore service levels for select park and recreation areas and facilities. We appreciate their interest- and yours.

    The City established a fair process by which interested individuals or groups may pursue donation or volunteer opportunities for supporting or increasing maintenance service levels. Our goal is to accomplish the requested work in the most cost effective, safe and efficient manner possible. Citizens may donate time or money to support a park, to add features, support maintenance, install or maintain trees.

    The City shall provide as consistent “base level of service” as possible throughout the park system and shall insure all city properties that are open are accessible to the entire community.

    Regarding tree or bush trimming, everyone has a different idea about what is appropriate and trimming also needs to be done with the health of the landscaping in mind. Some may feel things are overgrown or out of control while others just see a landscape maturing as planned. This is why we have and maintain park landscape to specific standards, including for safety.

    We are happy to continue to recruit neighborhood associations, volunteers and businesses to help support our park trimming and mulching and other efforts to ensure park standards are maintained however any activity should be coordinated and approved. While you may know what you are doing regarding trimming, we would not want untrained or inexperienced individuals inappropriately trimming and causing the landscape to decline. Some may feel things are overgrown or out of control while others just see a landscape maturing as planned.

    We very much appreciate your enthusiasm- however using a power equipment such as residential lawnmowers and wood chippers on public parks creates liability for you, other park users and for us- we would not want you or anyone else to get hurt. Maintenance activities such as this are best left to our trained and experienced Operations crews. However, there are a variety of other lower risk opportunities for you and the neighborhood to assist with.

    To clarify- the Parks Foundation of Clark County is an independent non-profit organization that facilitates donations and private support for specific park projects throughout Clark County, including the City via the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department, but is not involved with City parks maintenance activities, planning or decision making.

    REET funds – are specifically used for developing parks – and have never been used for park maintenance.

    With this reduced maintenance cycle and letting the parks go brown we are seeing impacts especially with the young plants in the park system that are not yet established. While these plants were able to survive with the irrigation and lack of mulch before, we are now finding we need to ensure these young plants have mulch to help them establish faster and be able to survive with the lack of irrigation. We are now also promoting nutrient recycling by mowing leaves and as much as possible leaving leaves and branches in the beds to naturally breakdown. Some might see this as “messy” compared to how we maintained parks in the past however in a natural system, debris would be left on site to provide nutrients back to the landscape.

    As a reminder, the public should park and drive in designated park areas only – not pull onto grass or trails.

    Our new volunteer coordinator is now on board specifically to support city parks or other projects to augment staff services – please contact Michelle Simpson – (360) 487-8316 michelle.simpson@cityofvancouver.us to get involved. A new “Adopt a Park” program is available to help facilitate interested citizens, organizations and businesses in improving parks, trails and facilities. We urge your consideration of this popular program.

    We have a neighborhood association that has been very involved in Homestead Park providing hands-on assistance and we encourage you to get involved with that group if you are interested in doing so.

    I am sorry if you are frustrated and we are very happy to hear the feedback. Ways we all can work together to improve Vancouver amidst a challenging economy are always top of mind. Should you have any further questions or concerns regarding maintenance of Homestead Park, please contact Tim Buck at tim.buck@cityofvancouver.us or via phone at 360.759.4489.

    Thank you again,

    Timothy D. Leavitt| Mayor

    CITY OF VANCOUVER
    Mayor/City Manager’s Office
    P.O. Box 1995 • Vancouver, WA 98668-1995

    P: 360.487.8729 | F: 360.487.8625
    http://www.cityofvancouver.us

  7. The “REET funds” Hizzonor speaks of is the $250,000 of Park Development money the City just spent on the Columbia Waterfront Project.

    It is true that REET money was never used for park maintenance, but it was never used for a lot of things the City has done with that money over the years.

    Back when I ran Clarkblog.org, one of my pet projects was the Waterfront Project at the former Boise Cascade papermill site. Council voted to reapportion the last remaining portion of REET money back in 2008 or 2009, and I raised hell about it then because I thought it would eventually end up in the waterfront project, and I was promised by every single member of Council at that time that the City would NEVER spend a dime “inside the berm”.

    I have not heard of any chronic behavior problems in our parks with a couple of notable exceptions.

    ** Esther Short Park is still a magnet for all kinds of unsavory characters doing all sorts of unsavory things. That does not warrant this kind of sweeping change and iron fist be imposed on every park city wide..

    ** Any City park where the City insisted on installing a skateboard park where the residents begged then not to in the first place. The graffiti is rampant along with the vandalism, but none of that requires a Parks Czar with police powers either.

    The City cannot seem to find any money to much more than mow the weeds in the parks on this side of I-5, but they can find all the money they need for maintenance in Esther Short Park and treat the rest of the City as if it were as bad as Downtown obviously is.

    Again, this ordinance does absolutely nothing to improve maintenance in any park, but it does plenty to criminalize what were formerly legal activities, unless of course you purchase a permit and have the Lord Director sign it for you personally…

  8. I checked my photo log, and sure enough I took pictures over at Homestead Park on September 22, before the first rain and long before the leaves started to fall.

    Here are two views (front and back) of Homestead park shrubbery that Hizzonor the Mayor thinks are “maturing as designed”.

    I participated in a walk through of Homestead Park with the president of our neighborhood association shortly after these pictures were taken. Three residents accompanied the NA President, and she compiled a list of 26 maintenance items that were submitted to the City for action.

    On November 19th, the City provided sand for several sand pits around the park and loads of bark mulch for the play areas. The NA spread the material the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and that is the only organized activity they were able to assemble that late in the year.

    I cannot really say exactly what I did or any more about how I did it, but let me say that I took it upon myself to do a number of items off of that list while the weather was nice during October. I did remove 26 bags of shredded leaves to fill my compost pile and my chicken yard.

    I did a walk through the park again this morning when I walked the dog, and many if not most of the items the City was asked to take care of have not been done, and I really have no expectation that they will be. What’s been done is done, and that’s probably as good as it gets over there until this whole Ordinance business is taken care of. I really don’t want a bunch of legal hassles, but I’m not swallowing this one either.

    NOTE: edited HTML for images

  9. The “fair process” that Hizzonor the Mayor refers to can be observed in the Staff Report Exhibit1, which list a summary of all the comments received on this Ordinance and which apparently was considered when preparing it.

    QUOTE

    Comments Received

    Electronic Comment Form: 24 (16 in favor of the changes, 8 opposed)
    Facebook: 5 comments (3 in favor of the smoking ban, 2 opposed)
    Written: 1 (opposed to the changes)
    Telephone: 0
    Email:0

    UNQUOTE

    So as I understand this, based solely on the information being provided by the City, the entire justification for banning smoking in the parks is 3 people’s opinions on Facebook. Three people told the City this is a good idea, and they are about to go ahead and try to do it.

    And sixteen people, not necessarily voters or taxpayers, decided that the park exclusion policy as presented by the City of Vancouver is a good idea?? I doubt anyone is aware of the power that this Ordinance hands an unaccountable and unelected official on the public payroll and does absolutely nothing to promote or improve the condition of the parks.

    Is this how we are doing business in America’s Vancouver these days?? Seriously, all of you people who just voted for Larry Smith and Bart Hanson….did they tell you they were working on something like this?? Did you really reelect them because you knew they would approve something as intrusive and unenforceable as this?? Do you realize that the language of this ordinance may enable the parks Director to hire staff to enfore this atrocity??? How much money can the City of Vancouver afford to spend on enforcement?? How long will it be until City Council enacts a schedule of fines to pay for the enforcement like Portland does??

    Again, is this how we really want to do business in Vancouver??

    Where are you Golden Oldie?? How about it Karma?? I’d like to hear what some of you other people think about this. City Council has over-reached for years (as the continuing saga of the People’s Hilton proves) and this Park ordinance is no different. If nothing is done, this will pass with a unanimous vote. This thing is ripe for abuse and it cannot stand.

    I want to thank you Lew Waters, for providing me a soapbox to preach from about this. i don’t think many people are aware of much less support any of this business, and if it were not for guys like you who maintain websites like this one, there would be no forum whatsoever to talk about a subject like this. This will not be the first (or the last) time you or I will have scooped the Columbian on something of this magnitude and it will be interesting to see if and when they get around to mentioning anything about it.

  10. For any interested, you can see and hear the October 10 workshop on this ordinance at CVTV

    http://www.cityofvancouver.us/cvtv/cvtvindex.asp?section=25437&folderID=3091

    Click on City Park Code Proposed Revisions. The discussion is about an hour long and is the first half of the video.

  11. I’m reviewing that video now Lew and I have a number of comments to make as I watch.

    ** Its clear the City has spent considerable staff time for months coming up with this ordinance. How is it that they had so little actual public feedback on it?? (See Exhibit 1 of the Staff report)

    ** Since when do we need Vancouver Parks and Recreation looking out for our “morals”?? (See the first slide in that workshop)

    ** This is the first time the myth of “these are the first changes in 40 years” was used as the real reason for updating this ordinance. In fact the changes go well beyond the mere administrative updates claimed.

    ** Parks Director Pete Mayer states over and over that the goal is to improve applicability, update business practices and improve enforcement of the Park Code. There is nothing in the goals whatsoever that says anything about actually improving the conditions of any Park.

    ** I’ve been dealing with many of these maintenance issues in Homestead Park for over a year and a half. I have repeatedly informed Larry Smith and the rest of Council about these problems and have worked with the City arborist on some of them. But the first review on this document was on September 16, and not once in any of the time I have been working on keeping our park cleaned up has anyone from the City or the Neighborhood Association ever bothered to ask me to fill out a survey, or indicated that they had any concern whatsoever for getting the Park cleaned up.

    ** The provisions about dogs were presented as concerns about dogs near swim and bathing areas, but that is NOT what the actual ordinance as presented says.

    ** Director Mayer states: “We cleaned up” the Director’s authority and his “designated authority”. Who is going to be designated with that authority??

    ** States that they updated the penalty section to “reflect the misdemeanor charge”. If you read the actual Ordinance, it makes it a misdemeanor to ignore an exclusion, but that is not what Mayer is saying. He is talking about consequences as related to a misdemeanor.

    ** Mayer says they clarified the consequences for “non compliance with a permit”. In fact the ordinance imposes a new exclusion policy for violation of any park rule.

    ** “those rare occasion we may need to exclude a citizen”

    ** Mayer claims there have been incidents of “significant misconduct” in the parks that they have had to deal with. Other than ongoing vandalism at the skate parks the City forced on residents, I know of no significant misconduct in our park ever in the 14 years we’ve lived here. I know of nothing that has ever required anyone to be excluded in Homestead Park.

    ** And this is not just a smoking ban, this is a ban on all tobacco products, period.

    ** It appears most of the presentation consisted of a presentation supporting the smoking ban by County health officials. No word if either of them participated in the Facebook Poll.

    ** Looking for “positive peer pressure” to enforce the tobacco ban. Witness states that Minnesota had very little trouble forcing to comply.

    ** Jeanne Stewart wanted to know if it would be unruly and “dangerous, disturbing or distressing behaviors” by drunks for example that would lead to an exclusion. Director Mayer made it clear that ANY violation of any rule in the parks or of any rule adopted by the Director would result in an exclusion.

    ** Mayer states that the City’s “code of conduct” that is apparently already posted at the Community Centers would soon be posted in all of the parks as well.

    ** Mayer specifically says that the exclusion policy is intended to codify responses to disruptive patrons at the Community Centers, and that is why he needs to exclusion authority. However, the additions to this ordinance that were made after this workshop changed the exclusion policy significantly.

    ** In reply to Jeanne Stewart, Mayer states that the only intention for the exclusion policy is for those who are disrupting the use of the park, “unruly and uncooperative”

    ** The intention is to proceed with this once the City approves it, the County Commissioners will be asked to adopt an identical Code revision.

    There is absolutely nothing presented in the Workshop that addresses the improvement of the actual condition of any park. The significant changes being made here are intended to keep the public in line and specifically prevent residents from maintaining what the City will not.

    Please take the time to watch this video, because it is night and day different from what is about to be voted on by Council, and every single Park in Clark County is going to be next.

  12. Its also important to note that Jeanzilla and mayor Progressive were both absent from this workshop.

    That means if you are reading this thread you are better informed about this issue than either one of them are.

  13. Not surprisingly, this ordinance passed last night on the first reading and will be presented next week for a second reading where it will no doubt pass unanimously.

    According to the morning paper, the only issue that was considered was the tobacco ban.

    I think we’re done here.

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