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The City Journals

City clarifies code prohibiting camping on public property

May 21, 2018 02:38PM ● By Travis Barton

Under South Jordan’s new city code, unless approved with written permission from city officials, camping on public property is prohibited. (Stock photo)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Pop those tents somewhere else.

The South Jordan City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits camping on public property within the city.

The change comes after months of work, according to Assistant City Manager Dustin Lewis, for a change in city code that provides definitions for “camp” and “public property,” while also ensuring specific exceptions can be made. Under the previous code, code and police officers did not have “sufficient parameters” to address the situations. 

In Lewis’ report to the city council, code and law enforcement officers were called to investigate campsites being created on public properties in 2017. They found that these areas “were deemed to pose a threat to the health and safety of community members,” according to the report. 

Lewis said problems persisted with these campsites where “significant debris and hazardous materials” were left behind. They even called in the Salt Lake County Health Department on several occasions for assistance.

“Lately, the demand has been so high they’ve been unavailable to help clean up some of these areas, so we want to prevent those from happening in the first place,” he told the city council at their May 1 meeting.

Lewis also identified safety as a reason for the code change. It’s not only for passersby of the affected areas but also the “people that call those home.”

“That (area) can be a potential target for crime or be victims of crime themselves,” he said.

A “camp” is now defined as “the use of public property as a temporary or permanent dwelling, lodging, residence, living accommodation or sleeping accommodation.” It also includes storing personal belongings or laying down bedding to sleep. 

“Public property” is defined in the code as “all real property owned, leased or occupied by the city” and any “governmental entity.” It also includes any “easements on property granted to the city” such as public streets, parks, alleys, sidewalks and flood control channels. 

This doesn’t only apply to homeless, Lewis explained, but also nomads traveling the country looking for a place to stay for a night. Though over the previous eight to nine months, Lewis said they’ve seen an increase in the homeless population, most likely due to surrounding cities enforcing changes in their code. 

“They (the homeless) have recently been the ones we mostly encountered,” he said.

Under the new code and based on the situation, law enforcement would direct people violating to appropriate resources, whether it be the homeless or travelers passing through.

City officials were careful to include exceptions in the code that allows camping with written permission from property owners. If the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park wanted to hold a Scouting jamboree, or if vendors for a city function needed to set up tents overnight, those would be allowed, according to Lewis.

“We tried to think through any of the contingencies that might arise in the future,” Lewis said.

Mayor Dawn Ramsey and City Attorney Ryan Loose clarified that violators would first be educated of the new city code and possibly receive an infraction or fine. Loose said it would be “like a speeding ticket.”