Bernalillo County weighs ban on tenting, obstruction in intersections

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Bernalillo County Commissioner Walt Benson

A Bernalillo County official wants to ban sidewalk obstructions and camping on certain streets and intersections because it’s a public safety issue.

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

Presenting his proposal at Tuesday’s district commission meeting, Benson called it a “continuation” of recently passed legislation banning camping in arroyos and other waterways. He said the purpose “is to limit unnecessary deaths related to camping in pedestrian zones and medians.”

In the event of violations, criminal charges of trespassing will be filed prior to possible indictment or arrest.

The proposed regulation would not apply to all activities; It provides exceptions for police, as well as those who use the public right of way “for expressive speech or conduct, the use of which does not impede or impede movement or constitute camping.”

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

“I just want to clarify what it is and what it isn’t,” she said. “Someone asking for money at a crossroads is not the same as someone camping at the crossroads.”

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

The regulation is now open for public comment and the Commission is not expected to take a final vote until at least December.

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

The city council is expected to vote next month on legislation that would make it illegal to occupy median reservations on roads where the speed limit is at least 30mph. It would also ban pedestrians from entering lanes on roads or motorway ramps unless they were “legally crossing”.

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