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City looks at updating nuisance codes rather than kicking out downtown churches

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WENATCHEE — The city can best protect business owners and their customers from harassment by homeless people by putting more teeth into public nuisance laws rather than banning social services in the downtown area, city officials say.

The City Council on Thursday gave staff the go-ahead to begin revising outdated and ineffective city codes that address incidents of public nuisance and disorderly conduct, such as the conflicts with homeless people downtown.

Steve King, the city’s community and economic development director, said overhauling the laws will benefit the whole city.

He said a number of situations “with detrimental impacts” have come up over the last couple of years in residential, commercial and industrial areas.

The city has been largely ineffective in dealing with the problems,” he said. “The city codes are old and outdated.”

In the last eight years, city police have written $113,000 worth of citations for incidents of disorderly conduct or being a public nuisance but has collected just $23,000 of that.

That’s because the city’s laws don’t hold up in court.

He presented a laundry list of proposed code changes to the council on Thursday and asked them to prioritize which ones his staff should on first.

The city’s laws need to clearly lay out what is and is not allowed and they need to have a progressive enforcement response.

He suggested that revoking business licenses be a final consequence for businesses that don’t correct problems over a period of time.

King told the council that he believes fixing the nuisance codes, disorderly conduct laws, and enforcement should be a top priority for the city.

Referring to the problem downtown, where a day-use center for homeless people is causing problems for surrounding business owners, he said, “When operations affect other businesses, that’s a problem.”

City Councilman Keith Huffaker said, “That ought to be a high priority.”

I think that, from the staff’s perspective, it’s frustrating not to be able to help a neighborhood out,” King said. “We’d like to have the tools.”

He added, “ Having the nuisance codes lets you build a case to take (enforcement) action.”

King said it will take several months of researching other cities’ laws and then writing new ones for Wenatchee.

Michelle McNiel: 664-7152

Reach Michelle McNiel at 509-664-7152 or . Follow her on Twitter at @MichelMcNielWW.

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