Squamish council passes reduced camping ban

Vanlifers’ proposal for seasonal-only prohibition in Mamquam River FSR turned down

It’s neither a complete loss, nor a win for those who live in their vehicles or like to camp in Squamish.

A reduced version of the District’s camping ban has passed second and third readings, making the adoption of a controversial bylaw a virtual certainty.

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After widespread criticism from vanlife advocates, the municipality backed away from a full ban of camping — which included sleeping in vehicles — in District boundaries and opted to concentrate its no-camping zone in the Squamish Estuary and the Mamquam River Forest Service Road areas.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the reduced version of Bylaw No. 2679 during its July 16 meeting.

“I think this is a tool that we need,” said Mayor Karen Elliott.

“I don’t think this bylaw is the end of discussion by any means. Certainly, it provides me with an opportunity to really go to the province and talk about the need for campsites in our community.”

The Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group, which represents local vanlifers, said that further work on the matter was key to garnering their support.

“I just had some conversations with District staff and we’re going to commit right away to moving forward on further engagement, which was the most critical part for us,” said the group’s Rufio West. 

“Because solutions are needed. The bylaw is only a small piece, and it’s not an ideal piece for anyone.”

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Rufio West, an organizer with the Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group, speaks before council - Steven Chua

The group was also hoping that the District would make the ban on the Mamquam River Forest Service Road area seasonal from June 1 to Sept. 30.

However, that idea was not incorporated into council’s bylaw.

“We were definitely hoping that would be included in today’s reading and, unfortunately, the way it went was it didn’t get included,” said West, after the meeting.

“[The] challenge would be clarity, for one, when you alternate things back and forth, it becomes harder to get that message across,” said Chris Baker, the District’s bylaw supervisor.

“There isn’t a wildfire risk in winter. But then the other risks still exist. Like disposal of human waste and things like that even become more difficult in the winter.”

Also new to this version of the bylaw was the inclusion of the Powerhouse Springs Road area in the no-camping zone.

In a June committee of the whole meeting, this area was left out of the first draft of the bylaw that featured a reduction in no-camping zones.

However, after wildfire concerns were raised by the owner of the proposed Squamish Canyon, the camping ban will be implemented in this area as well.

Vanlifers supported a fire ban in this area, but still wanted access to the area, saying that it’s close to an outhouse and away from homes.

Under the new rules, camping in the forbidden zones would warrant a $100 fine. There is language in the bylaw stating that the fine could reach up to $10,000, but District staff have said that amount would virtually never be used.

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Mayor Karen Elliott said that the bylaw was necessary for enforcement, but added that more discussions around vanlife are necessary. - Steven Chua

“Some of those campers, and I emphasize some — not all, not a majority, but some — are not thinking about wildfire risk, stream impacts, noise concerns of our neighbourhoods, wildlife impacts and just general environmental degradation,” said Coun. John French.

French said he trusted that bylaw officers would emphasize education first when curbing problematic behaviour.

Vanlifers seemed to express some support for the District’s reduction, but emphasized that they wanted to see further work done to come to a better solution.

Some expressed concern that the District will drop further work on the issue after this bylaw is passed.

“How do we know that anything is actually being done in course of the next year in terms of a solution, or is this just lip service?” said Derek Christ, who was standing in for Thomasina Pidgeon, one of the main organizers of the vanlife opposition.

He said Pidgeon was out of town.

“This is certainly not lip service,” said Natasha Golbeck, the municipality’s senior director of community services.

“All decisions like this, bylaw amendments, additional bylaws, something as high profile.... all of that would come through council, which is a very transparent process, of course. So that’s how the public would be aware, is through the council public...process. Additionally, we’ll have some public engagement.”

West also said that he would’ve also liked to see a more formal agreement that further work will be done on the issue.

The Vehicle Residents of Squamish Advocacy Group proposed a safe lot pilot project for this summer, but staff did not present it as a motion for council to consider. One of the options presented in the plan calls for zones overseen by the group where vanlifers could stay for $2.

The second option in the plan would be to create night-only zones, where vanlifers could stay for free until 8 a.m. After that time, they would have to leave the area.

“I was expecting [the pilot project proposal] to receive a little more engagement because we believe it’s a critical part of the bylaw and addresses the same issues as the bylaw,” West said.

He said he would’ve preferred it if the District made a motion for staff to start working on it.

The following day, however, his colleague had more pointed words with respect to the decision.

“I did not support the bylaw as was,” said Pidgeon in an email to The Chief on July 17.

“I was really pushing for the seasonal closure, the Crown land lots past Power Spring Road, and some movement towards a permit system and safe lots. I am not happy that the seasonal was not added and that we lost use of the public land down Power Springs.”

 

***Updated 10:50 a.m. with a comment from vanlife organizer Thomasina Pidgeon.

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