I hung out at city hall yesterday for a while, in the hopes of talking with the city's homeless commissioner, Nick Fish, about the controversial effort to come up with a replacement for the sit/lie law. Fish is up for reelection next year and I've been interested to follow his progress on this issue since he took office. After a bit of (presumably constitutional) loitering on my part, Fish eventually emerged from his office and had to walk out to his car. Fish had to fend off the conversational advances of Water Bureau boss David Schaff for a good two blocks, but eventually I got a minute alone with him on the sidewalk at SW 5th and Taylor:
"There will be no new sit/lie law proposed," said Fish. "The judge, I think, has closed the door on a son of sit/lie." Fish says he is working with Mayor Sam Adams on a "comprehensive, constitutional plan for sharing the sidewalks." He added that to find ideas for it, the city might have to go "back to the future," to look at some of the sidewalk regulation measures in operation before the sit/lie law was introduced in 2007. "This is not about the homeless, or targeting anyone," said Fish. "This is no longer a question of sit/lie, but of ensuring that everyone's rights are protected."
Fish then gave some "previews" of what he thought the law might look like, which I have tried to communicate graphically, Perez Hilton-style, by drawing all over the photograph above. To summarize for those of you not used to Davis's spacko-kineticTM style of public policy communication:
1.Pointing to the portion of the sidewalk immediately next to the cross-walk, Fish said federal mobility law protects that area. Referring, I think, to law protecting the rights of wheelchair users.
2.Pointing to the area near the doorway of the Qdoba restuarant, Fish said fire code protects safe egress and ingress from the building.
3.Pointing to the narrow path between the Qdoba tables and the two feet next to the curb, Fish said state law protects citizens from having that path blocked—referring, I think, to state disorderly conduct law.
4.Pointing to the spots marked with green check marks that are out of the way of most people walking, Fish said, simply, "This is America."
It's difficult to see what Fish meant by that statement, because evidently we all have different ideas about what "America" is. One just needs to look at the recent town halls on health care. But perhaps there is encouragement in his words for those, like me, who suspect that the city is simply trying to reinstate the sit/lie, taking a gamble that it won't be found unconstitutional for another 18 months, so that in the mean time, the cops can go ahead and use it to harass people.
Deputy city attorneys have been charged with coming up with the new law, but it is still very much in draft form at this point in time. City Commissioner Randy Leonard has also asked them to research requiring people to have licenses to solicit "anything of value" on the sidewalk. Leonard, who has voted against successive iterations of the sit/lie law citing constitutional concerns, says he feels the onus is on the rest of council to come up with a new sit/lie law that meets constitutional muster. "l don't think they want to get into another 4-1 vote where I've been upheld by judges," he says.
A Facebook group entitled "The Sit/Lie Law is Unconstitutional. Really. Stop Trying to Fix It," now has 175 members. Group members are also planning sidewalk picnics to draw attention to the issue next Monday, downtown, between noon and 1 o'clock.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!