In a surprise move, the Longview City Council Thursday night imposed an emergency curfew in all city parks between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in response to the homelessness problem at Lake Sacajawea.
Councilman Mike Wallin said he introduced the curfew and asked City Manager Kurt Sacha to declare a state of emergency following growing frustration with homeless people who have been spending nights at the Lion’s Shelter opposite St. John Medical Center on the Nichols side of the lake.
Wallin said he read recent comments on social media threatening physical violence against the homeless people.
“People are so upset that they are threatening to cause harm to each other and homeless people. We cannot allow that to continue. We need to take immediate action,” he said.
He also asked the city manager to enforce city laws regarding public urination, vandalism, lewd actions, alcohol consumption and shopping cart theft. And he proposed the formation of a subcommittee to determine long-term strategies.
Councilman Ken Botero, who was the only one to oppose the measure, said he agreed with Wallin’s concerns but was worried that the additional measures were unenforceable.
“We have five officers on a shift. What’s your plan to enforce all these things at one time? The city manager has his hands full now. We need to work as a community to do something,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Longview Police Department said in a press release that a court ruling in Idaho determined a citation for camping on public property was unconstitutional and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
City code already states that city parks are closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., but the new measure prohibits people from even walking through the parks during these hours.
Police have asked people at the lake during those times to leave. So far, everyone has complied, according to the press release.
City attorney Jim McNamara told the council that the city manager is supposed to declare a state of emergency and then bring it to the council for approval, not the other way around.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been accused of being micro-manager. It won’t be the last,” Wallin said with a laugh. “With respect to the city attorney, the city manager is the council’s one employee. … It may sound heavy-handed to declare state of civil emergency, but yesterday through today people were threatening acts of violence.”
The council approved the motion without public comment. But in the following open public comment period, at least eight Longview residents told stories of people urinating, defecating, masturbating and doing drugs at the park.
City Manager Sacha said the city has worked “feverishly” to address the problem.
“These are stronger measures that can be enacted that we can continue to take further along. It’s a complex issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s not just here in Longview,” Sacha said. “We will address it here in Longview in our way.”
The council meeting continued past press time. Look for continued coverage of the meeting online Friday morning and in the weekend print edition of The Daily News.