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Longview, Wash., council plans for homeless camp stirs ire

By Rose Lundy (Longview, Wash.) Daily News

About 18 Longview residents Thursday night blasted the city’s plan to establish a homeless campsite at the old water treatment plant on Fisher’s Lane, prompting Councilman Mike Wallin to ask that plans for the location be discontinued.

In sometimes emotional testimony, the speakers said they were concerned their neighborhood would see an increase in crime and drug use, and a decrease in property value and overall sanitation. They also were concerned about the proposed camp’s proximity to Catlin Elementary School.

Many argued that establishing the campsite would solve one problem by creating another. Others said that volunteer groups have worked hard to clean up the camps that used to exist in the nearby wooded areas.

Niechelle Guzman, whose family owns two businesses on Clark Street near the proposed camp, said they’ve already had problems with homeless people leaving garbage on their property, urinating in their backyard and accosting clients.

“From a business standpoint, having more people going through there will be really hard,” she said. “And no one has said anything about extra police.”

Hollie Hillman, who lives in the Old West Side, said she hasn’t seen an increase in crime since homeless campers started congregating at City Hall, about a block and a half away from her home.

“I want to say the people (camping) at City Hall are a little more friendly than some of the residents in their homes,” she said, referring to the negative comments from speakers during the meeting.

On Dec. 27, a new city ordinance will go into effect banning camping on city right of way during the day between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. It is intended to address the makeshift homeless campsite that has cropped up in front of City Hall.

Campers would still be allowed to set up their tents there overnight because a federal court has ruled that it is not a crime to sleep in public places. However, under this ruling, if the city establishes a separate camping site, it can ask campers to leave the right of way.

The old water treatment facility is one of two locations the city is preparing as a designated campsite, City Manager Kurt Sacha told the council Thursday. The other is an empty lot near Alabama Street and Oregon Way.

“We have immense pressure, on the community as a whole, to try to fix the situation that we have outside of City Hall,” Sacha said. “We have a beautiful community here in Longview. I’ve lived here for 63 years and never seen anything like what we see (at City Hall) today. It’s what everyone who comes to Longview sees and has as their first impression.”

The city recently invested $5 million to improve the downtown as a way to bring people in, he said, but the campsite clustered near the Civic Circle is instead driving them away.

He said the city “looked far and wide” for locations and the two proposed at the best ones it could find. His plan is to have multiple locations on a rotating 90-day basis so city officials could clean up the previous campsite.

Following the public testimony, Councilman Wallin asked Sacha to “reconsider preparation” for the campsites. Due to Thursday night being designated a “special meeting,” Wallin could not add a new item to the agenda, and therefore could not make a motion directing staff to stop preparing the sites. Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis expressed support for Wallin’s request.

“I don’t know what the solution is, but I am gravely concerned about the Fisher’s Lane site as an alternative place,” Wallin said.

After the meeting, Sacha said he will continue preparing both sites, primarily because the Fisher’s Lane location is essentially ready. All it needs is some portable toilets and wash stations, he said.

During the meeting, the council also appointed Councilwoman-elect Ruth Kendall to the county’s ad hoc committee to find its own designated campsite. The county is considering, among other locations, the old landfill off Tennant Way and a plot of land on First and Third streets between the jail and work release building.

In other council business, Sacha confirmed that the city will eliminate its economic development coordinator position to “provide long-term financial sustainability” after the council opted not to increase the property tax levy rate by 1% next year, leaving a roughly $93,000 shortfall. Because cities can only increase the property tax levy rate by 1% each year, the decision will have a compounding effect on city revenue. Economic Development Coordinator Joe Phillips’ last day will be Dec. 31.

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