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Flagstaff Council to staff: Why is camping a crime?

The possibility of someone facing criminal charges for sleeping in a car parked on a street became a sticking point for some members of the Flagstaff City Council, which was divided about what it would like to do about the city’s anti-camping ordinance.

The ordinance, which was first enacted in 2005, prohibits camping on public property, including sleeping or making preparations to sleep; using a vehicle, tent, shelter or other structure for sleeping; making a fire or cooking in a place other than a city-provided barbeque pit; or storing personal belongings on public property.

The ordinance requires a person to be given a warning before they can be arrested for violating the law. A violation is a class 3 misdemeanor, which is the lowest level available, senior assistant city attorney Marianne Sullivan said at the council meeting Tuesday night. Since 2013, 22 people have been arrested in violation of the ordinance and 226 warnings have been issued, Flagstaff Police Department Deputy Chief Dan Musselman said in a presentation to the council.

Josh Biggs 

In this file photo from 2012, Flagstaff Police Officer Nick Jacobellis asks a homeless man to leave his camp on McMillan Mesa.

At the meeting, Sullivan said necessity can be used as a defense for violating the law, either when a person is approached by a police officer or when a person who receives a citation goes to court. Sullivan said necessity could mean the shelters are full that day or a person is fleeing violence. When officers encounter a person violating the ordinance, they provide the person with a list of social service organizations and contact information, Sullivan said.

At the meeting, 10 members of the public spoke out against the ordinance, with many saying they are currently experiencing homelessness or have worked with individuals experiencing homelessness.

Jake Bacon 

A pair of firefighters from the Flagstaff Fire Department dig a fire line around a forest fire caused by a transient camp fire Monday afternoon behind the Rio de Flag water reclamation plant near Interstate 40. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Community activist Klee Benally said the ordinance showed a “lack of recognition of the humanity and basic dignity of people who are unsheltered.”

Two of the speakers said they are living out of their vehicles, which is a violation of the ordinance.

Both speakers said they had recently been awoken by police pounding on the doors of the vehicle in the middle of the night, and both said officers threatened them with jail time if they were found in violation again.

Councilwoman Eva Putzova said encounters of that nature, when a person is awakened in the middle of the night, could be a reason to repeal the ordinance.

“You’re interrupting somebody’s sleep in the middle of the night,” Putzova said, adding that she felt it would be more appropriate for social workers to approach people camping illegally, rather than police officers.

Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun Lt. Matt Pavich of the Flagstaff Police Department inspects a transient camp at the northern edge of Bushmaster Park. The camp contained clothes, empty alcohol bottles and a bag of potato chips.

Putzova also criticized the ordinance for specifically not allowing people to create campsites, like using shelters and sleeping bags. “Sleeping alone does not constitute an offense, however setting up a temporary shelter, cooking, campfires for warmth, etc., may collectively establish a reason to believe a person is camping,” the ordinance reads in part.

“These are exactly the things that save lives,” Putzova said.

Putzova said the ordinance has not significantly reduced the number of littering violations, trespassing violations and illegal fires in the city.

According to Musselman’s presentation, there was a decrease in wildland fires since the ordinance was implemented, but forest thinning and management also began in 2000, which was when the significant dropoff in fire numbers began.

Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun Cpl. Tom Boughner talks with a transient found camping on private property within the city limits on the southwest side of Mars Hill just after dawn monday morning. The Flagstaff Police Department was warning transients camping in the forest surrounding the city to move outside city limits into the national forest. It is illegal to camp within city limits.

In the executive summary of the issue, Mussleman said city staff recommended the council keep the ordinance as it stands “so it is enforceable and able to withstand any legal challenges and remains an effective tool to combat the real risk and danger of forest fires.”

At the meeting, Putzova asked if the council would consider changing a violation of the ordinance from a criminal offense to a civil offense. At the meeting, Musselman said if it were a civil offense, it would greatly diminish officers’ ability to enforce the ordinance, because the only enforcement would be fines.

Flagstaff Police Cpl. Corey Runge confronts Fred Herman Jr. for camping within the city limits. Herman claimed he owned the property, but was cited with a warning. With camping now illegal, and fire danger high, police are cracking down on those sleeping in the woods. To order this photo go to

Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun

Councilmen Scott Overton and Charlie Odegaard said they were supportive of the ordinance as it stands, and Overton said he did not believe the data for violations was enough to require a second look from the council.

However, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilmembers Putzova, Celia Barotz and Jim McCarthy asked that the police department research options, including changing the offense from criminal to civil, and bring the issue back to the council at a later date.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Tess Siemens, left, and Abigail Olmstead, right, use their phones to fill out their health history Wednesday morning before donating blood during a United Blood Services blood drive on the Northern Arizona University campus. For another photo and a story, see Page A3

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Study finds surprising ponderosa regrowth after severe wildfires

More than a decade ago in the midst of a string of severe drought years, the Pumpkin and Rodeo-Chediski fires whipped through a combined 484,000 acres of Arizona’s ponderosa pine forests. Large areas experienced complete or almost complete tree mortality.

But now, a team of Flagstaff and Colorado researchers has found some encouraging signs of ponderosa pine regrowth in those high-severity burns. Their paper, set to publish in December, recorded regeneration in all burned areas and also found evidence that the new trees may come back in lower densities than before and intermixed with more drought-resistant species, making the entire forest more resilient to climate change and wildfires in the future.

“I don’t think we can prevent all (high severity fires) so if they do occur I do think there is hope,” the paper’s lead author Suzanne Owen said in an interview.

The study focused on six 4-hectare plots per fire, all located in high severity burn patches that had experienced 100 percent tree mortality. Half the plots were located in the interior of the fire scar, and the other half were adjacent to live forest on the edges of the burn area. Owen recorded the location of every regenerating tree and collected data on its species type and height.

In the end, she said, the study resulted in several surprising findings.


Ponderosa pine seeds spread mostly via wind, so seedlings usually establish within 100 meters of their parent trees, Owen said. In her fieldwork however, she found seedlings sprouting more than 300 meters from the nearest potential parent tree. That means regeneration was occurring not only near the edges of the burn area, but also in severely burned interior parts. How the seedlings got to where they are requires more research, but Owen said certain types of scatter-hoarding birds and really strong winds may be possible explanations.


The paper’s authors expected new ponderosa pine seedlings in the interior of the burn area to be rare and randomly distributed but Owen said she instead found a mix of single trees and groups of different-aged trees. If the trees survive, which is still far from guaranteed, that initial observation suggests they will reestablish in a pattern that emulates the forests’ diverse and less-dense historical structure, Owen said.

That structure would make the forest more resilient to increasing wildfires and a warmer, drier future climate compared to densely packed forests that preceded the wildfire, she said.

The fact that Owen also recorded different-aged trees regrowing in the burn areas indicates they are continuing to establish for several years following the fire.

That’s encouraging because there has been an assumption that there is a window of opportunity after a wildfire, but this and other studies show it might be more episodic, said Carolyn Sieg, a research ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station. Seig is also Owen’s advisor and a co-author on the paper.


In Owen’s Rodeo-Chediski burn area study plots, new ponderosa seedlings were poking up in dense sections of resprouting oak and juniper trees just as easily as they were growing in places without competition from those species.

That suggests those sprouting species might not be limiting ponderosa pine regeneration, which is contrary to what a lot of people think, Owen and Sieg said.

The mixing of ponderosas with more drought-tolerant species like oak and juniper also could help the forest be more resilient to climate change than it was before the wildfire, the paper stated.


Sieg and Owen said they are hopeful their research will help land managers better approach landscapes affected by fire. The study shows, for example, that abundant oak and juniper regrowth doesn’t preclude ponderosa pine regeneration in the same area. It also suggests that it could be worth it for land managers to hold off on post-fire replanting to see what natural regeneration develops, they said.

“We think it might be interesting for managers to use a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Owen said.

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BASIS.ed: "Best school" – for some

Part III of the 3-part series

TUCSON  -- Onida Perkel spent hours pacing the Arizona State Capitol’s lobby while dozens of bills passed through the House floor. She’d shown up on an April morning this year to tell state legislators about how her experience with school choice had had devastating consequences for her daughter, Bree.

She had spent months trying to get BASIS Scottsdale Primary to provide special instruction services for Bree, now 11, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and severe anxiety attacks. Sometimes, Bree couldn’t sit still or keep on task. Her mother said teachers often scolded her.

“I just was always sad,” Bree said of the two years she attended BASIS schools, when she had two or three hours of homework nightly. Without special education services, her anxiety attacks worsened.

Because BASIS charter schools are public, they must serve every student picked from a lottery. But parents say students with disabilities or limited English skills often are pushed out later because they can’t get specialized services. Others are deterred from even applying.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2014-15 school year – the most recent available – shows only six English-language learners were enrolled at BASIS’ Arizona charter schools. But company spokesman Phil Handler says state data says differently: There were 28 – about 0.3 percent of all students enrolled in those schools, compared with the national average of 9.4 percent.

A spokesman for the national statistics center said the data reflects how states administer English-language learner program funds and not necessarily the exact number of students enrolled.

The average enrollment for students with disabilities was less than 2 percent across 15 BASIS charter schools for which data were available. That same year, 13 percent of all public school students in the U.S. received special education services.

BASIS charter schools are not a realistic option for some families because most do not offer free lunch or transportation. Its Washington, D.C., and Phoenix South campuses are the only ones that participate in the federally subsidized lunch program.

Peter Bezanson, the BASIS.ed CEO, said enrollment of students with disabilities or those who are learning English has improved in recent years, especially with BASIS’ expansion into primary grades across the country. It also has made efforts to open schools in low-income areas, including South Phoenix, and increase outreach to Spanish-speaking families.

Arizona Daily Star 

Peter Bezanson

BASIS does make curriculum modifications, Bezanson said. But it does it so that students “can reach our graduation requirements.”

“In other words, we might increase the amount of time or do something different with the math curriculum in middle school to better prepare them for calculus in high school,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began investigating BASIS after a teacher filed a complaint in July 2014, alleging that she and others were told during mandatory training that BASIS does not modify its curriculum for students with disabilities.

On another occasion, the teacher was told that “students are failed/retained if they are unable to master their curriculum without modifications,” according to the complaint.

BASIS accepted a voluntary resolution agreement in 2015 in lieu of a full investigation. It agreed to submit its special education policies and drafts of in-service training materials to the Office for Civil Rights, among other things.

Onida Perkel’s daughter had a 504 plan, which by federal law grants modifications for students with disabilities. But her mother says she didn’t get any.

Mamta Popat,Arizona Daily Star  

Bree Perkel, 11, jumps around on the sofa as she takes a break from watching the show "Glee" on television at home in Phoenix.

After Bree struggled for months, the Perkels pursued an individualized education program, a blueprint for a child’s special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in December 2015. It turned out that Bree needed special instruction for math calculation and organizational strategies.

Under federal law, an initial plan must be in place within 60 days of the first meeting. But a state investigation found it took five months of sometimes heated exchanges between Perkel and school administrators before BASIS Scottsdale Primary signed off on Bree’s initial plan.

And a plan came together only after Perkel filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Education. Its investigation found that the school had not provided a proper initial placement statement. As a result, BASIS was ordered to pay for compensatory services, and the school’s special education coordinator was required to attend a dispute resolution course.

By then, in fall 2016, Perkel had decided to transfer Bree to a district school, where she finally began receiving special education services.

“I think where I got to was, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Perkel said.

Selling a philosophy

The BASIS philosophy is that any child willing to work hard can succeed at a higher level.

“3rd graders can think critically, 6th graders can learn Physics, and High School students can read Critical Theory and Philosophy,” the network’s curriculum overview says.

That philosophy sells, as evidenced by its steady enrollment growth. Politicians, educators and others have pointed to BASIS as a model for public education. And BASIS’ academic results are above average.

To graduate, BASIS high school students must take at least eight college-level Advanced Placement courses and six AP exams. In 2016, BASIS students graduated with an average of 11.5 AP exams, according to the management company’s website, compared with a national average of about 1.8 among students who take AP exams. BASIS students also pass AP exams at much higher rates – about 84 percent, compared with the U.S. average of less than 58 percent.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grades must earn 60 percent or higher in their final grades for every subject to move on to the next grade. Starting in sixth grade, students must pass comprehensive school exams for all subjects, despite widely accepted research that holding students back has no proven benefit.

With the way the BASIS curriculum is set up, it makes no sense for a kid to move on to the next grade without having mastered the content of the previous one, Bezanson said. A student simply could not move on to precalculus without having passed algebra 2.

“That’s inhumane, setting the kid up for failure or setting up the school to be a joke,” he said.

Parents and educators have said BASIS pushes out underperformers that way, saying the fear of a child being held back can serve as a strong motivation for parents to transfer a child out.

Bezanson said the vast majority of parents and students who decide to leave the network leave because they want something different, whether that’s more time for club sports or less academic rigor. It’s no secret that the BASIS curriculum is tough, he said.

“People can choose to come to us because of who we are, and when people choose to leave us to go somewhere else, that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “I mean, we want to keep as many kids as we can, but the key to the school choice movement is choice, and a student leaving us to go to another school has exercised that choice.”

'She snapped'

At BASIS Tucson North, teacher Andrew Sterling’s fifth-grade daughter lasted just 10 weeks. That was in 2013. She desperately wanted to do well, her father said, but struggled almost immediately.

Ron Medvescek, Arizona Daily Star  

Andrew Sterling, a former teacher and parent of a BASIS Tucson student.

She was stressed and tired, Sterling said, and developed a urinary tract infection because she didn’t feel like she had time to use the bathroom between lessons.

“She snapped,” he said. “It was kind of like a circuit breaker.”

Disillusioned, Sterling transferred his daughter to a public school in their home district. When he went to unenroll his daughter, school administrators asked whether he was going to quit, too.

He told them that he’d stick around until the end of the school year – that was the right thing to do for his students. But he wouldn’t stay any longer than that. Disagreeing with the school’s pedagogy was one thing; seeing his own daughter suffer was another.

“There’s no doubt if you just look at the business of BASIS, it’s a success,” he said. “The question is whether parents are fully appreciating the problems that are underlying that model.”