Bernalillo County weighs ban on camping, obstruction in intersections


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Bernalillo County Commissioner Walt Benson

A Bernalillo County official wants to ban sidewalk obstruction and camping on certain streets and intersections, saying it is a public safety issue.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Walt Benson’s proposed “pedestrian safety ordinance” would prohibit anyone from obstructing or otherwise impeding movement on streets, sidewalks, medians and other public rights of way on “dangerous streets or intersections.” It would also ban camping in the same areas. Dangerous, in this case, refers to places with severe crash rates at or above the statistical mean.

While introducing his proposal at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, Benson called it a “continuation” of recently passed legislation that barred camping in arroyos and other waterways. He said the purpose “is to limit unnecessary deaths revolving around camping in pedestrian areas as well as medians.”

Violations are subject to a criminal trespass notification prior to any potential citation or arrest.

The proposed ordinance would not apply to all activity; it carves out exemptions for police as well as for those using the public right of way “for expressive speech or conduct, whose use does not obstruct or impede movement or constitute camping.”

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley noted that category includes people asking for money.

“I just want to be clear on what it is and what it isn’t,” she said. “Someone who is asking for money at an intersection isn’t the same as someone who is camping in the intersection.”

Benson in a subsequent interview said the ordinance would not target panhandling “if the courts continue to defend panhandling as First Amendment right.”

The ordinance is now out for public comment and the commission is unlikely to take a final vote until at least December.

Benson’s proposal would apply only to the unincorporated areas of the county, though Albuquerque leaders are currently contemplating their own median-related ordinance.

The City Council is expected to vote next month on legislation that would make it illegal to occupy medians on streets where the speed limit is at least 30 mph. It would also ban pedestrians from entering travel lanes on streets or highway ramps unless “legally crossing.”

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