Sunday, December 17, 2017

Waste Elimination in Public: Proposal to Acknowledge City's Responsibility for Public Health

My vision for Burlington is undoubtedly your vision: a clean, prosperous, safe and relaxed city, a place that people like to visit and like to live in. Where serious people work and raise families, and people who want to have fun can, without concern for stumbling on human waste.
The city rightfully prohibits waste elimination in a public place. It has an ordinance which makes waste elimination in a public place a civil offense the first time, and a criminal offense the second time. And the City is considering an ordinance that would actually make the act of elimination a criminal offense the third time, not the second. So it is less severe, and it allows for “correction” through a restorative justice process. All good so far.
But the proposed ordinance fails to place responsibility for the public health where it belongs. According to this law, as it is and as proposed: someone with a full bladder who ducks behind a bush; someone who has walked five blocks from the restaurant where they ate a meal and were a customer, and only now feels a movement coming on; someone with Diabetes who has a sudden need to urinate; a homeless person who is not welcome in the restaurants and must choose between walking to COTS, City Market or City Hall, and decides to eliminate behind a dumpster or bush, is to blame if they cannot find a restroom within a short walk, while the City suffers no aversive consequences for its failure to ensure that facilities are available.
Under current law and proposed law, only the individual is punished, while for the failure to provide for the public health, the City suffers not at all. In short, current law makes no effort to acknowledge responsibility for the public health, but only imposes costs on the victim of a city without facilities. It is a duty of the government to ensure that facilities are available and open, because individuals cannot do that for themselves. And the law must be written such that there are consequences that pinch the City when the City cannot show that facilities were in fact available, when a charge is levied. The amendment proposed here corrects this imbalance.
The first paragraph of the proposed ordinance, with amendments, asserts*:
(a) No person shall urinate or defecate in any street, park or other public place [developed for human use] except in facilities specifically provided for this purpose. A person who violates this subsection commits a civil offense punishable by a civil penalty of $60.00 (with a waiver penalty of $50.00) for the first offense and $75.00 (with a waiver penalty of $70.00) if the offense occurs less than six (6) months after having been found to have committed the first offense. The penalty shall be waived upon the successful completion of a restorative or reparative justice program through the Community Justice Center. 

I propose to amend the new ordinance by adding here:
The penalty shall be waived and conviction reversed if by evidence the City cannot show that the above named facilities were available and open for use by members of the public without limitation within 150 feet of the prohibited act.
Furthermore, a clarification of public places is necessary to avoid the bizarre situation where someone eliminating waste in a wooded place would be ticketed. I propose to amend the governing ordinance further by adding:
c) For purposes of this section, “a public place developed for human use” shall not include those places not regularly maintained through services of the City or other entity, or is otherwise uncultivated, untended and wild.
Therefore, where there are no bathrooms available, there can be no convictions, and the city is chastised for its failure to provide for public health any time that it receives a complaint of public elimination. When the City has mounted that effort, and bathrooms are in abundance, the person who eliminates in a public place can be justly ticketed and held accountable. The effort to provide facilities would strongly conduce to the relaxed and comfortable place we would like Burlington to be, and effect the argument to any who relieve themselves outdoors “There was a facility for you to use”. We wonder how much of a problem it will be when bathrooms are easy to find.
* Amendment proposed by the Ordinance Committee; [inserted language proposed by myself]; indented: my proposed amendments.

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