Mixed Reactions from Candidates on Grants Pass Ruling

Rene Gonzalez says Portland’s dark days are over, while others fear a new regulatory landscape will criminalize poverty.

Maja Viklands Harris Avatar
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Multiple city candidates reacted this week to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a public camping ban in Grants Pass, a city in southwestern Oregon. The ruling overturns Martin v. Boise, a 2018 decision by the federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that barred western cities from enforcing public camping bans unless shelter beds were available.

“A dark period in the West, for Oregon, for Portland has ended,” tweeted city commissioner and mayoral candidate Rene Gonzalez, who oversees Portland’s Fire Bureau and is known for a tougher stance on public camping than his colleagues.

Gonzalez said the ruling would provide cities with new tools to remove encampments, but only if state legislators repeal or amend HB 3115, a 2021 state law enacted in response to the Martin v. Boise decision. HB 3115 mandates that public camping ordinances must be “objectively reasonable” and allows individuals affected by the ordinances to challenge them in court.

“If the state and courts continue to interfere with cities’ ability to govern their streets, we will continue to be overrun by migratory homeless and encampments,” he wrote, adding:

“To give Oregon cities a chance, the Legislature should remove the barriers created by HB 3115 and its progeny. If they fail to do so, it will be left to the good citizens of Oregon to do it themselves via ballot measure.”

City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Rene Gonzalez welcomed the SCOTUS ruling on Grants Pass

Concerns Over Criminalizing Homelessness

City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, also running for mayor, agreed with Gonzalez that little would change in Portland as a direct result of the ruling, but appeared content with Portland’s current level of enforcement.

In a statement, Rubio expressed support for a camping ban recently passed by the council, scheduled to go into effect on July 1. The new ordinance, designed to comply with both Martin v. Boise and state law, prohibits camping on public property between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m, and allows enforcing officers to issue fines up to $100 for individuals refusing available shelter.

“I voted for the most recent camping ordinance because it strikes the right balance between humanity and accountability,” said Rubio, who oversees the Housing Bureau.

Despite city lawmakers’ assurances that no drastic changes are on the horizon, multiple council candidates expressed concerns about potential harsher penalties for sleeping outside.

“Criminalizing poverty is the exact opposite of progress,” District 1 candidate Candace Avalos posted on Twitter.

Mitch Green, an economist running for a seat in District 4, wrote a letter to supporters saying he was saddened by the ruling and that Portland could be going down a “dark road.” He argued that Portlanders have a choice between a politics focused on cutting taxes for the wealthy that seeks to “jail and exclude people from civic life,” or one that aims to “build the administrative capacity to house everyone living outside.”

Green’s fellow District 4 candidate Andra Vltavín called the SCOTUS ruling “devastating” and urged Portlanders to join a protest at City Hall on June 30.

The ‘black bloc’ protest – where participants wear black and cover their faces for anonymity – called for attendees to bring camping gear and masks. In a later post, Vltavín also mentioned bringing goggles to protect against tear gas.

“We’ll be here all night protecting the houseless community members when the camping ban goes into effect at midnight,” Vltavín said.

District 4 candidate Andra Vltavín at a protest outside City Hall, opposing the SCOTUS ruling and Portland’s camping ban

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