PROVO You'd hardly expect someone to draw a comparison between University Avenue and the Las Vegas Strip.
But Provo Police Lt. Todd Grossgebauer found the similarities quite apt Tuesday night when he urged the City Council to pass an ordinance regulating residents' tradition of camping along University Avenue days prior to the Grand Parade of America's Freedom Festival in Provo. He found the comparison especially appropriate when the crowd of early birds swelled to an estimated 25,000 last year.
"It was bumper to bumper," Grossgebauer said. "Almost every single block had people that had staked out claims."
In response to petitions from the police, fire department and city administration, the City Council unanimously approved the measure Tuesday, forbidding campers from seat-saving along University Avenue until the night before the Fourth of July.
City Councilwoman Midge Johnson said it was time to get the situation under control.
"It was kind of a free-for-all last year," she said.
Specifically, the ordinance forbids paradegoers from staking out space along University Avenue until 3 p.m. on July 3, and they won't be allowed to save seats along Center Street, 100 South and 200 East until 5 a.m. on the Fourth of July. Any items left unattended could be deemed abandoned property and removed by law enforcement. In addition, no parking will be allowed along the parade route as of 8 p.m. July 3.
Anyone found in violation of the ordinance could be cited for a class C misdemeanor, Grossgebauer said, and be cited with a fee comparable to that of a speeding ticket
In a memo dated May 1, Provo chief administrative officer Wayne Parker said that previously, the city abandoned efforts to establish regulations on spot savers, as well as their practice of using personal effects to stake out territory. The only restriction the city had in effect was a rule that no one could camp out overnight along Center Street, 100 South and 200 East.
The lenient stance worked well for a few years. That is, until last year when people started camping out for almost a week.
"Tarps and blankets were placed on the park strips for many days at a time," Parker wrote, "killing grass and making it impossible to water or maintain the grass."
But landscaping was the least of local law enforcement's concerns. With crowds that large there's bound to be a few troublemakers. Last year, Grossgebauer himself had to arrest a few people for disorderly conduct, assault, alcohol and gang-related activity.
Parker said they also heard reports of conflicts igniting when campers left their items on the parade route only to come back later to find their chairs and blankets moved to the side by other campers.
"These issues created opportunities for conflict along the route," Parker wrote on the city Web site. "Which, at times, required intervention by the Provo police."
Grossgebauer said the Fourth of July festivities in Provo usually draw as many as 500,000 people to the area. Every Provo police officer is deployed to cover an assignment, and Brigham Young University police, Utah County sheriff's officers and the Utah Highway Patrol pitch in. Recruiting all those resources to patrol a huge throng of seat savers for two to three days just isn't feasible, he added.
"It's a lot of manpower," Grossgebauer said.
The city set up a page on its Web site to field comments from residents on the ordinance before the council approved it. Most comments were in support of the regulation.
"The weeklong campout along University Avenue last year only caused Provo to look like a 'shanty town,"' one resident wrote.
Though the city is ramping up its rules for spot savers, Grossgebauer said it isn't trying to cut into anyone's enjoyment. People will still be able to gather the night before."We just ask that those that do come adhere to rules and keep people safe," he said.