Residents have been asking members of the Boulder City Council to increase enforcement of the city's camping ban. Credit: Don Kohlbauer

City of Boulder voters have passed the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure with 61% approval, according to the latest election results, affirming the city’s policy to clear out encampments of homeless people from public spaces at a time when homelessness is on the rise across the region. 

The ballot measure was partially a response to concerns from residents about people sleeping near Boulder High School, where several propane tank explosions earlier this year set tents on fire and alarmed residents. 

“Voters across the spectrum from the most progressive to the most conservative and everything in between voted in favor of prioritizing the safety of our young people around schools and pathways — in the only public safety item on the ballot,” Jennifer Rhodes, an organizer with the Safe Zones 4 Kids campaign, told Boulder Reporting Lab. 

“We are grateful for all the support from the community. Now it is up to our leaders to do what has been asked of them and honor the voters,” Rhodes added. 

Ballot Question 302 amends city code to make tents and propane tanks near schools, sidewalks or multi-use paths “subject to prioritized removal.” Exactly how this policy is implemented will be up to city officials, who use a prioritization system to determine which encampments to clear out first. Proponents of the measure argue it will at least send a message to city officials to give greater priority to schools. 

The measure has been relatively controversial this election season because it affirms a desire for the city to enforce its controversial camping ban, a law dating back to the 1980s allowing officers to ticket homeless people for sleeping outside. Civil rights lawyers are currently challenging the ordinance in the Boulder County District Court. 

Regardless of how the policy is implemented, it has sparked a broader debate over how the city responds to rising homelessness. The measure also served as a proxy to divide candidates into separate political slates. 

By Wednesday night, two city council candidates who were ardent supporters of the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure were poised to lose. Terri Brncic, an organizer with the Safe Zones 4 Kids campaign, had narrowly slipped out of the running after the latest batch of results dropped late on Nov. 8. Jenny Robins, a real estate consultant, lost by a decisive margin. Meanwhile, Councilmember Bob Yates, who had been vocal in his support for the measure in his race for city mayor, lost his bid to Mayor Aaron Brockett.

Opponents of the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure have argued that residents should be debating ways to reduce homelessness rather than moving homeless people farther out of sight. The opposition campaign, Solutions Not Safe Zones, said it sought to try to drive a wider conversation about homelessness. 

“The policy of sweeping people who have no other options does not make anyone safer,” the organizers said in a statement conceding defeat. “Months from now, when 302 inevitably fails to deliver on its promises — when Boulder residents experience no appreciable change in our perception of public safety — we’ll need to have something beyond a mythical ‘safe zone’ to show our children.” 

John Herrick is a reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for Email:

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