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What is the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot initiative?

Ballot initiative 302 would amend the prohibited items ordinance BRC 8-3-21 to enact a prioritized enforcement zone of 500 feet from school property lines and 50 feet from multi-use paths and sidewalks. Within these zones, the removal of tents, propane tanks and other prohibited items would be prioritized and the City could use signage to mark the boundaries of these sensitive areas. 

Why do we need a Safe Zone?

Our kids are required to be at school, yet these areas have become increasingly unsafe for them. They report routine harassment, offers of drugs, inappropriate contact, indecent exposure and other menacing behaviors. Encampments are becoming more and more prevalent adjacent to multi-use paths and the areas surrounding our schools, and there is a high level of illegal activity associated with them. A 2021 Denver Post article reported that, according to Boulder Police Department data, “there was evidence of hazardous materials, drugs, human waste and propane tanks at nearly 80% of encampments” cleared in 2020. The recent propane tank explosions near Boulder High School and the hypodermic needle disposal bins installed along the creek path adjacent to Boulder High School suggest that the City is well aware of the illegal activity occurring within these encampments near our schools and pathways.

Our ultimate goal is to provide distance between children and the illegal activity that is occurring in our public spaces. While there is an existing tent and propane tank law in effect, the intent of the Safe Zones 4 Kids initiative is to formally legislate the prioritized removal of these items within the zones around schools and pathways in order to compel city leadership to develop more effective and immediate enforcement strategies in these critical areas.

Who are we and how did we get here?

Safe Zones 4 Kids was formed in October 2022 by a group of Boulder parents in response to the increasing amount of criminal activity occurring around Boulder schools and pathways.

 

The movement started mid-2022 with a call-for-support that asked the City to address the safety situation around Boulder High School. More than 1,800 people have established support for that effort (note, that effort is separate from our current petition drive). Over the ensuing six months, the group has met with numerous City and school district leaders responsible for public and school safety. Unfortunately, there is no uniform acknowledgement among these representatives that our children are a vulnerable population deserving of special protections.

Given the absence of leadership and lack of action on this issue by the City Council, City Manager and BVSD, Safe Zones 4 Kids determined that formally legislating the prioritized removal of items that are already prohibited under City ordinance is the best way to enhance safety for Boulder’s young people. 

At school

Aren't there already laws that protect areas around schools?

Yes, but they aren’t being adequately enforced. In 2021, in response to the proliferation of tents and propane tanks in public spaces, the City Council passed a city-wide emergency ordinance which provides for the immediate removal of these prohibited items in the interests of public health and safety. Despite the ordinance, City management has informally adopted a 72-hour notice period prior to enforcement, citing legal constraints. And given City resourcing levels, these prohibited items are often allowed to remain in public spaces for periods much longer than that. Furthermore, when the City does issue citations for illegal camping and propane tank possession, they most often get dismissed by the Municipal Court, which has been notoriously lax on enforcement of any kind. As a result, a large percentage of the encampments are inhabited by repeat offenders that have been informed of the city laws but choose to ignore them.

 

There are also Federal and state laws that were enacted in the 80’s to create Drug Free Safe Zones around schools.  In Colorado, these laws mandate enhanced felony-level penalties for drug distribution or manufacturing crimes committed within 1,000 feet of a school. However, with the recent move toward drug decriminalization, possession of relatively large quantities of drugs like methamphetamine and fentanyl do not fall under this statute and are treated as misdemeanor offenses with minimal consequences.

What are other cities doing to address this problem?

This problem isn’t unique to Boulder. Cities across America are grappling with the complex issues of homelessness, drug addiction and mental health – and there are no easy solutions. But increasingly, communities are recognizing that they cannot sacrifice the health and well-being of their children as they work through these lengthy challenges.   

 

To that end, several cities have recently enacted school safety zone measures. In Portland, Oregon, the mayor issued an emergency declaration banning camping of any kind within 150 feet of school buildings and primary routes to schools. The City installed signage along the high concern areas and have seen a marked drop in the camping activity within the zones as a result. In Los Angeles, California, the superintendent of the LA Unified School District partnered with the LA City Council to pass a revised ordinance prohibiting camping within 500 feet of a school. They also deployed signage to raise community awareness regarding the sensitivity of these areas and the consequences of non-compliance.

 

Many of these cities detail situations nearly identical to that of Boulder. What is different, however, is that in all of these cases, the cities and school districts are taking the lead in finding solutions because they recognize that they have an obligation to their most vulnerable citizens.

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