Denver asks judge to nullify part of homeless camping ballot measure

10.19D Lawsuit

Several tents used by the homeless sit along a berm at the corner of 10th Avenue and Corona Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. (BusinessDen file)

With two weeks to go before Election Day, and ballots already mailed out, the city of Denver is asking a judge to preemptively nullify a portion of one municipal ballot measure.

The city said in a lawsuit filed Friday — 18 days before ballots must be returned — that part of Initiative 303 “unlawfully intrudes” on Denver’s authority to respond to complaints regarding homeless encampments on public and private property.

A portion of the measure asks voters whether to require police officers to respond to complaints of homeless encampments within 72 hours and to allow lawsuits to be filed if they don’t.

The city’s lawsuit argues the three-day window would not give officers time to vet a complaint before being required to respond to an encampment.

The section the city challenges “also mandates enforcement action without regard to the source of the complaint, whether there is probable cause for enforcement activity, whether there are health and safety concerns in the area, or whether resources should be expended to address such a complaint,” according to the lawsuit.

The city’s lawsuit asks the judge that if Initiative 303 passes to rule that the portion it is challenging cannot become law.

Initiative 303 is backed by the Denver Republican Party and was filed by its board chairman, Garrett Flicker.

Flicker told BusinessDen that the lawsuit filed Friday is “disturbing” to him, as mail-in ballots were distributed to voters on Oct. 8 and in-person voting began at one location on Monday. Election Day is Nov. 2.

Flicker described the lawsuit as a “last-ditch effort” to block part of the initiative.

“They’re going to do anything possible to stop it,” he said. “It shows the desperation of the city for not dealing with a problem that they have allowed to spiral out of control for far too long.”

The initiative was approved for the ballot by the City Clerk and Recorder’s Office on May 6. It has three sections.

The first two sections ask voters whether or not to require the city to enforce its ban on unauthorized camping on private and public property. The second section also asks voters to limit the number of sanctioned outdoor camping sites on public property to four. Denver currently has two in operation at a church in Park Hill and at the Regis University campus, neither of which are public property.

The third section, the one the city wants thrown out, requires a response from law enforcement within 72 hours of receiving a complaint about a homeless encampment. If there is no response, the city could be sued by the person who filed the complaint.

“The city supports effective enforcement of the ordinance and allocates law enforcement resources amongst several competing priorities and as such retains discretion in the timing and manner in which it responds to any citizen complaint,” the City Attorney’s Office told BusinessDen.

Questions to the City Attorney’s Office regarding why the lawsuit was filed more than five months after the initiative was approved for the ballot were not immediately returned.

The defendants in the city’s lawsuit are Flicker, as well as Alec Baker, Charles Friedman, Jonah Smith and Matthew Dimms. Flicker said those individuals are supporters of the initiative.

“What the city has kind of failed to grasp is 303 only requires that the city take action,” Flicker said. “They don’t have merit to their argument.”

Flicker said the reason the initiative would restrict the number of sanctioned campsites to four is because that’s all he thinks the city can manage at this time.

“The current (homeless) situation, they can barely manage,” Flicker said. “We’re making sure the unhoused population is treated with compassion and humanely. We want to make sure the city can do it responsibly, and four is a good number.”

The Denver City Council has already come out against Initiative 303.

In a proclamation passed Oct. 4, the council noted unauthorized camping is already illegal in Denver, and said the 72-hour requirement to respond to encampments would go against a federal court settlement that requires the city to provide seven days notice of a “large-scale” homeless encampment cleanup.

The proclamation also noted that the city’s unauthorized camping ban requires that law enforcement offer offenders help before issuing a citation or making an arrest.

“This initiative enables a nebulous and vigilante-like ‘private enforcement’ for any unauthorized encampments after 72 hours with no exception for court orders or processes designed to protect constitutional rights that could result in taxpayer liability of millions of dollars,” the council proclamation stated.

According to the most recent campaign filings, a nonprofit organization called Defend Colorado has contributed more than $117,000 to fund the committee Let’s Do Better, which supports Initiative 303. A committee that opposes the initiative, called Let’s Do Our Best, has raised $300.

Flicker also got another question on the ballot, Initiative 304, which would cap Denver’s sales and use taxes to 4.5 percent across the board. The City Council also passed a proclamation in opposition to that.

10.19D Lawsuit

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