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Las Vegas City Council members Stavros Anthony, left, Michele Fiore, Mayor Carolyn Goodman and councilman Cedric Crear approved a controversial ordinance banning sleeping in public areas in Las Vegas. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The Las Vegas City Council has postponed a vote on a proposed ordinance that would allow city officials to set hours for “sidewalk cleaning” during which it would be a misdemeanor to sit or lie down on public rights-of-way, punishable by a $1,000 fine or arrest.

The vote on the ordinance, originally scheduled for Wednesday, has been delayed until Jan. 15. Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who requested that the item be held, was not present on Wednesday to discuss it.

If the City Council votes to approve the proposed ordinance, Director of Operations and Maintenance Jerry Walker will be able to set hours and post signs indicating hours of sidewalk cleaning. It comes on the heels of a similar ordinance the Las Vegas City Council approved on Nov. 6 that made it a misdemeanor to sit or lie down in public rights-of-way in city boundaries, but expands those provisions beyond the enforcement area specified in the first rule.

On Monday, the Supreme Court let stand the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision in City of Boise v. Martin, upholding the lower court’s decision that ticketing or jailing a homeless person for sitting or sleeping in public places, when they have nowhere else to go, is unconstitutional. But during a council meeting on Wednesday, city staff were quick to draw distinctions between the ordinance the court ruled on and the one the city passed.

“I want to remind our City Council and the public that our encampment ordinance that you passed contemplated the Boise decision. In fact [it] accommodates the concerns that were expressed by the 9th Circuit Court in that decision,” City Manager Scott Adams said after the council had approved a motion for an abeyance. “I didn’t want anyone to think that the fact that they didn’t take it up meant that it had some tremendously negative impact on what we’re doing with our encampment ordinance.” 

City officials have maintained that Las Vegas’ ordinance is not affected by the Boise decision because the law includes a provision that “no arrest may be made nor any criminal penalty imposed” if the city’s director of the Office of Community Services has notified Las Vegas Metro and the Department of Public Safety (which oversees city marshals) that facilities in the Corridor of Hope — the area north of downtown where homeless shelters and services are concentrated — are at capacity.

Adams said the city would proceed with “business as usual” in its phased implementation of the Nov. 6 ordinance, and will continue working on the ordinance that has been delayed until Jan. 15 for consideration.

During a presentation on “encampment abatement” given to the City Council on Nov. 6, Walker said that the city’s nine-person sidewalk cleaning team has had to increase its abatement efforts “based on recent concerns” about public health hazards encampments can pose, including poor sanitation, disease outbreaks or contamination of storm drains.

Clean-ups involve basic clearing of debris and sanitation as well as full-scale encampment removals or “homeless sweeps,” which means campers might lose important medication, documents needed for housing or other possessions that might make a homeless person’s situation worse.

Deputy City Attorney Jeff Dorocak, author of both ordinances, said that there are still industrial, commercial and suburban areas in city boundaries that are not included in the first camping ordinance’s enforcement area.

“We need to have a tool for operations and maintenance to come in and clean those as needed. And that's what this bill effectively does. It also lets them clean any other sidewalks, but specifically where there will be encampments still available on sidewalks,” Dorocak said in an interview last month.

At a recommending meeting on Dec. 2, the executive director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance and Continuum of Care Co-chair Emily Paulsen took issue with the bill having “no limitation or parameters” for adjusting the hours of sidewalk cleaning, allowing city officials to arbitrarily change the schedule. 

In July, the City Council passed a 5 percent tax on residential garbage services to finance homeless encampment clean-ups. The tax is expected to generate $3.3 million in the first year.

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