People have been using unincorporated King County as a public restroom, King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert said, and she wants it to stop.
Lambert introduced an ordinance Aug. 27 to the King County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee that would make public urination and defecation illegal, with an infraction and fine for the first citation and a misdemeanor charge on the second.
A number of cities and counties around Washington have similar laws, but the 1,700 square miles of unincorporated King County lacks any such legal barrier.
Without naming actual instances, Lambert said participants in two public events that drew thousands of people into unincorporated King County earlier this year “befouled” the land.
The fine proposed for King County could be up to $250. Seattle has a maximum penalty of $125, but most people are fined $27.
Advocates for the homeless, along with some of Lambert’s colleagues on the King County Council, worry the law would go too far, potentially criminalizing homelessness.
Lambert insists it would solve a problem that is out of control in rural King County.
“It’s very flagrant. It’s happening. You’re seeing it. It’s wreaking havoc,” Lambert said at the Aug. 27 meeting.
That might be an overstatement. Public urination happens, said King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Cindi West, but not often.
Sheriff John Urquhart supports the law as an infraction, but not a misdemeanor, West said.
Lambert still has to convince her eight fellow councilmembers to sign on in support of the law. Her first attempt, on Aug. 27, failed.
The other four councilmembers at the meeting wanted exceptions made for campers, hikers, children and people with disabilities.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn wanted more specific language so nothing would be left to interpretation. Councilmember Rod Dembowski agreed, saying he would support a public urination ordinance, but calling the current proposal “draconian.”
Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents unincorporated White Center, worried the law would be used to criminalize homelessness.
That concern is valid, said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI).
Seattle passed a law against public urination 14 years ago, prompting LIHI to create the Urban Rest Stop, a drop-in center with bathrooms, showers, washing machines and dryers.
Before making public urination illegal, the county needs to offer people an alternative, Lee said.
The King County Council will discuss the ordinance again on Sept. 10.