I found some very interesting points in the Anchorage Daily News May 26 article, “City moves to remove homeless camps from Cuddy Park ahead of music festival.” First, Anchorage residents have been repeatedly told for months (actually years, as this was used long before COVID-19 hit) by the city that their hands are tied as far as abating those camping on public land because of a federal appeals court ruling in Martin v. Boise that states “municipalities cannot penalize camping on public lands if there’s not alternative indoor shelter space for people to go.”
Curiously, the article continued with the municipal attorney and other city attorneys explaining in a meeting with the Anchorage Assembly’s Committee on House and Homelessness last week that “in certain instances, the municipality is allowed to abate encampments even it there’s not an alternative if a camp poses an extreme public safety concern, constitutes a major environmental risk, or hinders access for others.” According to them, the Martin v. Boise ruling allows some leeway in this case for public safety.
The second thing I found interesting, besides the argument for the safety of thousands of concertgoers, is that those organizing the festival have spent a considerable amount of money on it. Sundown Solstice Festival has paid the muni $25,000 for the use of Cuddy Park, and Showdown Alaska co-owner Hellen Fleming said that an additional $250,000 has been paid to local businesses for the event. Not to be cynical, but clearly, money talks.
Third, I would like to make a point about major concerns that the Anchorage Waterways Council has had about campers along our highly used and well-loved creeks and lakes. Over the past several years as the number of encampments increased along waterways, we have had great concerns about environmental, health, and safety impacts on humans, fish, and wildlife. Trying to get camps that leave mounds of trash and toxic materials and pollute creeks and parkland with human waste (often left in honey buckets and on creek banks) or pose wildfire threats abated was a continual challenge that was most often met with “Martin v. Boise” as a reason why it couldn’t happen.
Lastly, give it some thought the next time you and your family and friends are kayaking along Campbell Creek, your toddlers are wading and splashing in a lake or creek, or your dog stops to get a drink. According to the Muni, Martin v. Boise does allow some leeway, but it’s the choice of where to apply it that bothers me.
— Cherie Northon
Executive director, Anchorage Waterways Council
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