Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Wind-Up — Planning for Human Waste Facilities is on the Agenda in Burlington

January 25, 2018

As you will know if you have read my previous posts, the Burlington City Council is considering ordinance changes that would modernize its penalty structure for a variety of "quality of life" issues. Broadly, it has discovered that some of its ordinances (panhandling, hitchhiking, cat-calling, for example) are un-enforceable, and is set to repeal them. Additionally, it is considering a liberalization of the penalties for outdoor urination and defecation. Although no one argues it should be ok, there are concerns about the effectiveness of the present enforcement, and the ordinance changes are intended to increase effectiveness.

As can be read in previous posts, I have proposed a mechanism to hold the City accountable for planning and developing bathroom facilities in the City. In its simplicity, it allows the court to throw out a ticket if there isn't a facility near by. That's it. If the City wants its tickets to hold, it must plan for and place facilities where they are needed. As you have heard me say, it is only just (fair) that if you prohibit this biologically necessary behavior in public, you are responsible to produce private locations for that behavior. No one suggests the solution is to allow the behavior - Thus we are reminded that there is an interest in public health which is intrinsic to the community's political body.

As the committee work unfolded, my proposal landed just a moment late for the Ordinance Committee to put it in the bill. But, I was promised, it could be taken up when the bill is considered by the City Council.

Last night the City Council took up the Quality of Life proposals, and I expected to hear debate and adjustments to the language, during which the most recent thinking could be incorporated. I was wrong. Moreover, I was told, the Council planned to vote that very night. I was in a box.

During the public comment period, I explained the purpose of the amendment (I previously recruited Max Tracy to help propose language), shared some of the new thinking (which I had not had a chance to explain to Max), and asked the council to allow the bill to go back to committee for more work.

Some Councilors were opposed. They wanted, they said, the police to have their new powers immediately. (They misunderstood. There are no new powers.) But nine of the 12 Councilors voted to send the bill back to the Public Safety Committee for more work.

So the Council has agreed to let the Committee write these ideas into the bill to change the ordinance. These votes do not equate to support for the concept, but they suggest sympathy, and now we have a chance to produce a version that can win support from the Council.

I continue to want the City to be responsible for its entire area, but I am willing to give the city discretion through its planning authority. Rather that put an exact distance in the bill and ultimately the ordinance, I would ask the planning office, or the Zoning and Planning Ordinance committee, to come up with a formula which accounts for the entire city, and such variables as the density of need. Since it is my goal to get the City to plan for the public health, giving this responsibility to a planning committee is an easy fit.

I continue to think that the greatest protection from public urination is ready availability of facilities. In Burlington, there is always a park within walking distance where a bathroom could be located, and always a business that could be recruited to open its bathroom, and therefore there could always be a bathroom "close enough", for a ticket to hold up under this plan.

And, I would be happy to include a sunrise provision, giving the City time to plan, establish and open bathrooms in locations beyond the downtown core.

Now I look for the next meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

[5:30, February 1, 2018, City Hall Committee Room 12]