Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

Council postpones measure clarifying power to close city-owned spaces

The Homer City Council postponed an ordinance to a later date that deals with clarifying how and when the city can exercise authority to close city-owned public spaces in times of emergency.

According to a memo from Interim City Manager Marvin Yoder to the council, Homer City Code does not currently spell out how the city can close its own campgrounds and parks in the interests of public health, safety and security.

“It is possible the City may want to take this action in the interests of public health during the pandemic or other emergency situations,” Yoder wrote in the memo.

Ordinance 20-19 would add a section to the city code specifying that the city manager has the power to do this, but only upon getting a “written finding” that it would be in the public interest to do so. The ordinance was up for second reading and public comment at Monday’s city council meeting. There were no public comments made about the ordinance during the meeting, which was conducted via Zoom conference and aired on KBBI public radio, but council members said they did receive some written comments from people who were concerned about the idea of giving the city manager power to close public spaces.

City Attorney Michael Gatti said during the council’s committee of the whole meeting that the city already has the legal authority to do that. The ordinance would simply clarify that power, he said.

Council member Heath Smith said, in that case, that he didn’t think the city necessarily needs this ordinance, as it wouldn’t accomplish anything beyond further defining a power the city already has.

“These powers I think are already inherent within the administration’s ability to act,” Smith said. “So I don’t see any real need for this. I think what really kind of caught the ire of some people is that it said campgrounds, RV parks, and those kinds of things, and other public use spaces. And that, I think, was not well defined in what that meant. … Things that aren’t well defined can be broadly applied, and I think that made some people uneasy.”

Council member Rachel Lord said she sees value in the part of the ordinance that would require written documentation that closing a city park or public use space was in the public’s best interest.

“I do appreciate within this proposed ordinance the requirement for a written document of that and the reasons behind it,” she said.

During the council’s regular meeting when the ordinance came up for public hearing and discussion, the suggestion was made to postpone the ordinance until the second council meeting in May in order to tighten the language up a bit more. Smith specifically suggested adding the words “other city owned” to the ordinance, to make it clear that the city has the power to close parks and land within its possession.

The ordinance was postponed and will come back up for a second public hearing and a vote at the second meeting in May.

The city also voted down an ordinance and two resolutions having to do with the city’s code on removing vegetation from public right of ways. This is an ongoing issue that has drawn complaints of over-clearing from city residents, and there is currently a moratorium on clearing and cutting. The council did approve a resolution extending that moratorium to June 9. This is to give the city’s public works director more time to research the issue and come back to the council with a more comprehensive plan on city clearing of vegetation in right of ways.

Also at Monday’s meeting, council members approved a resolution that allows more time for payments on city leases to be made, in order to reduce financial hardship during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s leases are on the Homer Spit and at the Homer Airport.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for May 11 at 6 p.m. Meetings normally take place at Homer City Hall but are currently being broadcast on KBBI (as they normally are) and conducted via Zoom. To find out how to participate and give public comments, visit the city website at cityofhomer-ak.gov/cityclerk/stay-connected-city-council

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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