City Council has this morning passed a resolution replacing its defunct, unconstitutional sit/lie law.
"This is an issue that touches every single portfolio of every single member of city council, so we have adopted a team approach, and a holistic approach," said Mayor Sam Adams.
"The rules governing our downtown sidewalks have been a contentious issue for quite some time," said City Commissioner Nick Fish. "Every person in this room cares deeply about ending homelessness and making sure that downtown Portland is a safe place for everyone." "But the intent is not to single out any one group or to abridge anyone's rights," Fish continued. "It is simply to figure out how we can accommodate a variety of needs within a very confined space."
The resolution calls on the city attorney to pull together all its existing sidewalk management strategies, calls on the police to enforce existing criminal laws (imagine that!), and it may also provide new training for the city's rent-a-cops who walk the streets with guns and no civilian oversight. There'll be some more education for the "real change not spare change" program, too. The mayor will also propose a downtown retail strategy, City Commissioner Nick Fish is going to build a Resource Access Center, and City Commissioner Randy Leonard is putting some more loos in. He mentioned the death in police custody in 2006 of James Chasse, in his remarks:
"Having been accused of many things, lacking a sense of humor is not one of them," said Leonard. "But I don't actually find the humor around my efforts to build more 'Leonard's loos' funny, and the reason for that is because of the James Chasse incident."
"I have seen many documents associated with the case, some of which you have had the chance to review, and some you have not, and I have concluded in my review of the documents that the death of Mr.Chasse is completely unjustifiable and inexcusable," said Leonard. "One has to remember that the death of Mr.Chasse began with an allegation that Mr.Chasse was urinating in the street. He was a mentally ill, homeless man. Where else was he to use the restroom?"
Chasse was, in fact, housed, at the Helen Swindells hotel on SW Burnside and Broadway. But he was unkempt, and could have been confused for a homeless man by the police, who thought he looked like a "transient," they said. Chasse was certainly obviously mentally ill, according to witnesses to the incident, although the police said they didn't think it was so obvious. Depositions reveal that Chasse never did, in fact, urinate in the street—despite widespread reporting to the contrary. Officers thought he may have wet his pants, but that's it.
"The first loo was put in near Transition Projects Inc, on SW 5th and Glisan," said Leonard. "A place that Mr.Chasse knew well." At least the Commissioner's heart is in the right place. "I have never voted for a sidewalk obstruction ordinance since 2002." Read more reaction to the resolution after the jump.
"We want to figure out a way to get beyond some of the rhetoric and the quagmires that we've been stuck in," said Street Roots Director Israel Bayer. Leonard told Bayer he thought road warriors are "a stain" on downtown Portland. "We're not painting this with a broad brush," he said. "There's an element out there that needs to get out of Portland, or else." And he hoped Street Roots would help him in that fight.
"I think the commitment to maintain an oversight process is important," said Marc Jolin from nonprofit JOIN. "And not just to train police officers but also private security that work the streets down there. It is expected that the new ordinance will be narrower in scope, and it's my hope that that will avoid some of the concerns that were raised around the old ordinance." Jolin said he hoped the new ordinance would focus on "equitably addressing destructive behaviors." "Confrontational and aggressive behavior" unravels our sense of community well-being, he said.
PBA boss Sandra McDonough said she supported the resolution, too. Ongoing law enforcement is an important part of it, she said.
Patrick Nolen, a spokesman for activist nonprofit Soapbox Under The Bridge, said he was very happy with the rough draft, so far. "I'm kind of worried, that private security keeps being mentioned in the document. I feel that we have a police bureau, and I feel that we have people that do this job already, and by allowing other people to do that we kind of undermine the work of the police." "We need more affordable housing," said Nolen. "As an activist in the homeless community I would much rather be working with Amanda and Nick on affordable housing than on how we are going to manage the sidewalks."
"A defining moment for me came when Patrick Nolen turned to Sandy McDonough and said we've been fighting over the sidewalks for three years, we really should have been working together to end homelessness," said Commissioner Fish, later.
"On private security, the concern that they lacked the same kind of training that the police are getting,we are putting together a package so that they get the same kind of training on mental health and cultural specificity that police officers do," said mayor Adams.
"But with the Portland Police we have the Independent Police Review," said Nolen.
"No, this is limited to training, and it would make sure they are trained," said Adams.
"That's why oversight for private security is so so important," said Nolen. "Because we are moving more and more and more into using them as police."
ACLU, Oregon Lobbyist Andrea Meyer said she was uncomfortable with the use of the term "aggressive panhandlers," in the resolution, urging a change of language to highlight criminal activity. "We would expect enforcement to be applied to everyone," she said, of the zero-tolerance criminal policy. "For example, as we all know, cigarette littering is rampant, so we would expect officers to enforce littering statutes in front of all downtown office buildings, including in plain clothes." She also cautioned targeting specific groups.
Downtown neighborhood association chair Steve Trujillo said a dedicated officer for homeless youth would be a good idea.
Dan Handelman, an activist with Portland Copwatch, said he was glad there's no sit/lie ordinance in this new resolution. "There has to be an oversight system for the rent-a-cops downtown," he added. "I've been following this law for three years, but I've never heard anyone with disabilities say they couldn't get along the sidewalk, so I think it's strange that you're focusing on that as a reason for crafting these laws."
The resolution will be finalized with more details in 60 days.
"I was just thinking about how we have this mothballed Wapato jail," said local busker Barry Joe Stull. "The role of the police in our society is basically to keep the poor out of sight of the rich. When we talk about how we interact in our society, the rich people have a bunch of stuff and the poor people don't have any. This all really comes down to kindness, meanness. I hope that we focus on all these issues in a spirit of kindness." "I've worked as a street musician, and whenever there's an altercation, it's because somebody is mean spirited."
"I want to thank you for addressing this complex and emotional issue," said Kathy Oliver, director at Outside In. "I ask that homeless youth or their representatives be included on the oversight committee. I also ask that you target behaviors and not specific groups. I'm especially concerned by the repeated use of the term Road Warrior in the media lately. It's a term that can elicit fear in the general population. We started the Road Warrior program at Outside In to draw in the most entrenched youth, and I'm concerned when that group is targeted."
"It's unfortunate, when I use the term Road Warriors, I am using the term to describe negative behaviors," said Leonard.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!