The Portland Bureau of Transportation and downtown restauranteurs pitched the idea to City Council this morning, seeking a permit for a pilot project to reclassify the thin strip of SW Ankeny between 2nd and 3rd Avenue into a sidewalk for the summer, allowing the restaurants along the alley to set up sidewalk cafes in what is usually parking spots for six cars. The sidewalk cafes would take over the street from the first day of summer, June 21st, until the end of the world, October 21st.
But homeless advocates worried the plan was an infringement on public space—turning a public right-of-way into private property.
Restaurant king Bruce Carey (who runs Clark Lewis and Saucebox—among other notable schmany places—and is planning to open up a Via Tribunali pizza place on the corner of Ankeny and 3rd) painted an enviable portrait of the plan for the summer sidewalk cafes to council this morning. "We'll be basically expanding our dining room into the outside area," said Carey. Each of the businesses on the block are willing to pay the city $200 a month the make up for lost parking revenue.
Homeless advocates were also on hand: Sisters of the Road Board of Directors Member Michael Moore argued that the plan directly contradicts the city's recent pledge to promote equity.
"It walls off what is currently public space for the exclusive benefit of a handful of business owners, while making no provision for the benefit of anyone who can not afford to patronize these businesses," said Moore. He worries that the alley would turn into a legally dicey private/public space like Pioneer Square, where he says homeless people are often cited for sitting or lying on too long in "Portland's living room."
Moore and Commissioner Amanda Fritz—who is in charge of the new Office of Equity—asked the businesses to rewrite their request to include some seating in the alley for people who don't order anything from the cafes. "It doesn't seem equitable that some people have to sit on the floor and some people don't in a public right of way," said Fritz.
I was surprised—the group agreed to write some public tables into the ordinance immediately. The revamped plan will be going back to council this afternoon at 2pm.
Looks like all the homeless advocates had to do to protect public space was get a commissioner to ask politely. And now, as Randy Leonard consumes a pear and nutella Perierra Crepe from the sidewalk cafe, he might be sitting just a table away from a homeless guy taking a break.
UPDATE 6/16: I spoke too soon about the cafes writing the homeless advocates' request into their plan—at the 2pm vote, the council passed the permit without any public seating space included.
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