Boulder voters approve Safe Zones initiative to enforce camping bans around schools

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Police clear a homeless encampment on sidewalk near Boulder Creek in Boulder, July 14, 2023.

Boulder voters have approved a change to city rules that instructs authorities to prioritize enforcement of a camping ban around schools and surrounding sidewalks. 

More than 62 percent of voters signed off on Ballot Question 302, the Safe Zones 4 Kids initiative, according to the latest count available Wednesday morning. The opposition campaign conceded in a message posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. In it, they called for a “more humane” approach to addressing homelessness. 

“The policy of sweeping people who have no other options does not make anyone safer. It makes everything more dangerous. That goes for everybody — regardless of housing status, or age,” the campaign wrote.

Boulder already bans overnight camping and storing propane tanks in parks or on public property. Question 302 amends the city’s prohibited items ordinance to create 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,” the measure states. 

The measure’s supporters, including local parents, former mayors and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, said its approval was a step towards addressing a “drug and mental health crisis in public spaces.” 

“Boulder has to address the crisis and they now have to do better to protect our kids from it,” said Jennifer Rhodes, a Boulder Valley School District parent and Safe Zones 4 Kids spokeswoman. 

Boulder County’s most recent survey of unhoused residents counted 839 individuals living in tents or in temporary shelters. That was the survey’s highest number on record since at least 2017. 

Supporters of 302 claim students are experiencing a growing number of negative interactions with the population.They cited a propane tank explosion near Boulder High School last year as one example. 

The idea to create “safe zones” drew pushback from some parents and advocates, who argued that camping bans often fail to address the root cause of homelessness. Opponents called for stronger investment in proven solutions, including affordable housing. 

“Months from now, when 302 inevitably fails to deliver on its promises — when Boulder residents experience no appreciable change in our perception of public safety — we’ll need to have something beyond a mythical ‘safe zone’ to show our children,” the no-campaign wrote on X.