Spokane’s extensive public park system would see reduced operational hours and new laws governing camping, marijuana use and fishing under legal changes to be considered by the City Council today.
The enforcement arm of Spokane’s park department has drafted what it calls “cleanup” to the city’s laws governing parks, and the move already has received the endorsement of the autonomous Park Board. At a presentation to those officials last month, Justin Worthington, supervisor of the city’s park rangers, said rules regarding use of the city’s 87 public parks has lagged as user behavior has changed.
“What we found, through our enforcement efforts both with the Spokane Park Rangers and the Spokane Police Department, is that it just wasn’t adequate,” he said.
Park rules last received a major update in 2007. The new laws will replace those sections and make several clarifications, including that people seeking a place to sleep in city parks should be shepherded toward social services.
Spokane employs three full-time park rangers, with some temporary seasonal workers joining the staff during the summer months, said Jason Conley, executive officer for Spokane Parks. Changes to the law are not expected to affect staffing levels, he said.
Rangers, along with police, issued more than 200 citations and made 115 arrests last year in parks other than Riverfront Park, and encountered several encampments where weapons, needles and more than 33 tons of trash were picked up, Worthington told officials.
The new law makes sleeping and storing property in parks “in a matter that obstructs or prevents others from its use and enjoyment” a criminal misdemeanor. The intent is to enable law enforcement officials to direct those seeking refuge in the city’s park system to community court, where they’ll receive assistance from social service agencies, Worthington said.
“Our intention isn’t to arrest people and jail them for this,” he said.
Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear is sponsoring the legislation, which was drafted by the city’s parks and legal departments. Kinnear said she agreed the city’s rule on camping in parks, which previously saddled violators with fines and potential jail time, was inadequate.
“It wasn’t enforceable, and it was punitive,” Kinnear said. “It was a ‘go directly to jail’ type of thing.”
Among the other changes to the laws is a prohibition against opening and consuming marijuana on park grounds. Those caught violating the ban on pot will receive a $56 fine. That’s the same penalty someone drinking alcohol in the park without approval from the parks department would receive.
The laws also prohibit fishing in ponds, but will allow anglers to cast into rivers. Drones, or other hobbyist aircraft and vehicles, must not be operated “in a manner that is dangerous to persons or property.” Violating either rule could result in a $261 fine.
Hours of operation at all parks would change under the new law. All city parks would close an hour earlier, at 10 p.m., and open an hour later, at 6 a.m. Riverfront Park will close at midnight to accommodate later, citywide events.
The Spokane City Council will consider the changes at their weekly meeting tonight at Spokane City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., beginning at 6 p.m. Public testimony will be taken before the vote.
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