Local government

Ontario, Vale and Nyssa ratify new homeless camping ordinances

ONTARIO – Camping in Ontario will now be regulated and a section of land in the southeast part of town will be open for homeless to congregate after action by the Ontario City Council Tuesday, June 13.

As expected the city council voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance to align with a 2021 state law.

The ordinance, which will go into effect July 13, prohibits camping on city property and rights of way – including parks – between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The new mandate also allocates a 2.8-acre parcel on Southeast 13th Avenue for the unhoused to congregate during the day. The area can accommodate more than 100 people.

The ordinance also outlines new rules for vehicles used as a living space on city streets. Under the ordinance, a vehicle cannot be used “for habitation and/or sleeping” on a city street for more than 24 hours in a 30-day period.

Open flames along with the burning of garbage or fires used for heating are also banned in the city. Dumping wastewater into city outlets, such as storm drain, is also prohibited.

The ordinance also restricts the amount of time a person can be in any city pavilion or gazebo in a park to no more than two hours a day without a city permit.

Violators of the camping and vehicle mandates could be subject to a $35 fine. Continued violations could carry a penalty of $250.

The new ordinance triggered a lengthy discussion among councilors at the June 13 session.

Dan Cummings, Ontario city manager, told the council that any ordinance has to ‘’be fair to everybody.”

He also said the new ordinance could be revised in the future.

“We want to emphasize that this will be a living document. As we go along making this work, hopefully, if we find an issue with it the staff will bring things back to the council to update it,” he said.

The new ordinance, he said, gives the city “something to work with.”

Cummings, prompted by a question from Councilor John Kirby, told the council the Ontario ordinance applies only to the city, not the county.

The ordinance, Cummings said, also does not apply to private property.

Councilor Ken Hart asked Cummings if there was a plan enforce the ordinance.

“Just because we pass an ordinance doesn’t mean we enforce it,” he said.

Cummings said the city intends to enforce the ordinance but will move “slowly and carefully.”

“We don’t need any big lawsuits. We will not jump out and write tickets right off the bat,” said Cummings.

Instead, the city will initially issue warnings and attempt to educate people on the new ordinance and its mandates, said Mike Iwai, Ontario police chief.

“We are trying to do this in the most humane possible way we can,” said Iwai.

Meanwhile, the Malheur County Court approved a time, place and manner ordinance at its meeting Wednesday, June 21. The county ordinance prohibits camping on any county property between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Camping restrictions without permission include, but are not limited, at Cow Hollow Park, Bully Creek Park, Arcadia Industrial Park subdivision, the Malheur County Courthouse and all surrounding parking lots used for courthouse parking and on, or within, county road rights-of-way.

Vehicle camping on county property is also prohibited.

Violators will receive a Class D, civil infraction penalty through the Malheur County Justice Court. The county mandate goes into effect July 1.

Vale also approved its own time, place and manner ordinance recently.

Vale’s ordinance is slightly different than Ontario’s and allows camping between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. but restricts camping at a number of locations. Camping is prohibited within any public right-of-way, within 500 feet of a school and within 25 feet of a public entrance to a business. Camping is also restricted within 25 feet of a public or private driveway.

Camping is also not allowed within 100 feet of city property inside any area zoned resident or industrial on city zoning maps. Camping is restricted at the rodeo grounds, the swimming pool, the airport and within 100 feet of the city water tanks, wells, water treatment facilities, waste water treatment facilities, lagoons and agriculture land used for the disposal of treated wastewater.

Camping is city park is also prohibited.

Vale’s ordinance also specifically focuses on what are termed “involuntarily homeless persons.”

Camping in vehicles or RVs is also banned on city property, though Vale can “designate certain city properties or portions of properties where camping may be allowed on a limited basis and may set the terms and conditions of camping that may be allowed.”
Violators of the ordinance will be issued a Class D civil infraction that carries a monetary penalty to be determined by Dave Carlson, Vale Municipal Court judge.  

The city is still working on designating a place in town where people can camp.

“We are trying to make it (the ordinance) as accommodating to comply with state law, but also take into account our residents and our business owners in Vale,” said Tom Vialpando, Vale mayor.

The Vale ordinance goes into effect immediately.

In Nyssa, the city council approved its time, place and manner ordinance during a special meeting June 20. The Nyssa ordinance is similar to Ontario’s and the county’s and bans camping in city property – and other locations such as within 500 feet of a school – between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Camping on city rights-of-way, city parking lots and within 500 feet of any school are prohibited. The Nyssa ordinance also goes into effect immediately.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Ontario City Council to ponder new camping ordinance to address homeless issues

Major homeless shelter being readied in Ontario with $4 million grant

Homeless count effort tallies 266 unhoused in Malheur County

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.