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Deschutes Co. Commissioners Consider Camping Ban

BEND, OR -- Deschutes County Commissioners held a public hearing Wednesday on a proposal to ban camping on county-owned land. County Legal Counsel Dave Doyle says the process started after the Sheriff proposed a no-camping zone around private properties and the Urban Growth Boundary. But the proposal up for consideration now has revisions, "We believe give us the best chance of addressing the concerns that the board and the Sheriff have articulated. And at the same time, staying within the parameters of the law, here in the Ninth Circuit, which are pretty restrictive when it comes to this particular issue."

He says the law is very clear, "For this code to move forward, the county’s going to have to identify some alternate sites where folks can shelter outdoors and have some modicum of sanitation and services." He added, "Without that our code isn’t going to fly. We would lose immediately in a court challenge. We have to have alternate sites where folks can go."

Urban areas of Oregon, including Portland, recently imposed camping codes. But Doyle says a local version needs to be different, "They don’t have an issue with folks camping unlawfully on county lands, because most counties don’t have the type of land holdings that Deschutes county has. To the east, there are counties that have that. But they don’t have a city like Bend that acts sort of as a magnet, in terms of the services it provides and economic opportunities. We’re really a unique unicorn, if you will, almost, in this issue. We’re trying to manage all those and there’s not a lot of guidance."

Stella Larson is one of several residents of Woodside Ranch who testified Wednesday. She told Commissioners, "When we purchased our home 10 years ago, we checked with the Forest Service and were told the area of China Hat across from our home was a dry campground, and there were limits for campers." But she says the area is now overrun with people living just outside her property line. Commissioners noted the China Hat Road area is federal land, and the county cannot enforce its code in that area, unless specifically requested by the federal government. Others testified an ordinance won’t solve the problem and will simply push people to other areas.

Commissioner Phil Chang is supportive of the idea, but only if an alternate campsite is managed, "If we set up a place that has no rules, no structure, no management, there will be chaos. There will be chaos and it will be our responsibility." He also worried, "You pass a code that will not stand up in court, and someone brings you to court and they file an injunction, you can’t use your code. You can’t enforce it."

During closing remarks, Commissioner Patti Adair said, "We have people that won’t go to Bethlehem Inn, they won’t go to the navigation center. But perhaps they will go to a managed camp. And if they won’t go there, then perhaps law enforcement can talk to them at that point in time." 

The Board will deliberate the proposed code change next Wednesday.

file photo

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