At its Tuesday, Nov. 27, meeting, the Lane County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an emergency ordinance placing an 11 pm to 6 am curfew on the “butterfly lot.” This curfew ordinance is effective immediately and affects the unhoused who have been protesting there.
The county opened a campsite off of Highway 99 last month, near St. Vincent de Paul’s Lindholm Center, in order to refer people to that site and away from the butterfly lot. The city partnered with the county on that project, canceling its own plans for a temporary shelter site downtown.
The curfew ordinance was introduced late last month by Stephen Dingle, department director of Lane County’s legal counsel when he was made aware of the butterfly lot’s lack of curfew — that differs from other public spaces in the area.
Dingle said, “During the situation we had on the butterfly lot, it was brought to my attention by the city attorney that our hours of operation were different than the city’s.” He said the butterfly lot was one of the only public areas downtown without a curfew.
This curfew ordinance adopts the same curfew as the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza did in 2013. In regards to some Board members concerns of violating any legal rights from adopting this ordinance, Dingle said, “There hasn’t been a single legal challenge to the Free Speech Plaza’s curfew.”
The butterfly lot will still be open during daytime hours and permission can be given for events during the curfew hours, Dingle said. He gave the Farmer’s Market, which sets up during dawn, as an example of this.
The ordinance was proposed as an emergency ordinance due to public health and safety concerns. During the meeting, Commissioner Pete Sorenson said that he had heard about a specific incident in which a tent at the protest camp had caught on fire due to a lit candle.
“That’s the kind of thing that causes me to think that we should think about providing for additional closure for this property,” he said.
Other commissioners cited other public health issues such as public urination and human excrement around the area of the protest camp.
“There is a public health need that supports the emergency clause,” Board Chair Jay Bozievich said.
Due to the emergency status of the ordinance, Sorenson said that there is “no reviewability of this by the public,” as ordinances that pass without an emergency declaration take 30 days to come into effect.
Bozievich said that citizens could potentially go through the initiative petition process, gathering signatures around Lane County, to get this ordinance overturned in an election.
To Commissioners’ surprise, there was no one at today’s meeting for public comment on the ordinance. This was a contrast to the Eugene City Council’s meeting last night, Nov. 26, in which multiple community members spoke on homelessness in the area.
One very pointed statement came from Sue Sierralupe, clinic manager of Occupy Medical, on the city’s decision to partner with the county on its campsite off of Highway 99, instead of to pursue a shelter site in the downtown core.
Sierralupe, an herbalist, said that she was speaking not with affiliation with Occupy Medical, but as a resident and business owner in downtown Eugene.
“I am joining voices with my neighbors who are also home and business owners and ask that there be a realistically placed center for those who are unhoused in Ward 1. Downtown is the most logical place,” she said.
She also discussed a recent letter from a group of downtown business owners and stakeholders thanking the city for not placing a shelter in the downtown core.
“The self-described downtown business stakeholders” Sierralupe said of the letter’s signatories, “represent a small section of those of us who live here, work here and own businesses here.”
She added: “Simply stating that those struggling with poverty should be shipped away to Highway 99 is dis-compassionate, impractical and illogical.”
There have been no tangible updates on any plans for a future shelter site downtown.
At their Nov. 27 meeting, Lane County commissioners brought up that in light of the butterfly lot curfew ordinance, the county is still working to find shelter for the unhoused community.
“The county is looking for safe and sanctioned places for people to camp. Our main goal is safe and permanent housing. Everybody needs a safe place to sleep at night,” Commissioner Pat Farr said. “That has nothing to do with the curfew we’re talking about today.”
County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky echoed the sentiment, talking specifically about the camp the county designated on Highway 99. “This [99 camp] was never intended to be a permanent solution. This was intended to be a transition. There is a further transition needed to occur,” Mokrohisky said. “That is the process we are now in.”