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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hales: City Will Probably Push Legislation to Shift Sidewalk Laws

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:29 AM

Mayor Charlie Hales—who stood officially mum as the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) attempted to revive a controversial sidewalk ordinance in this year's legislative session—signaled for the first time this morning he'll probably help lead a similar push come February.

"I intend for us in the city council to talk about this issue as we begin to put together our legislative package for the February session—what changes might be appropriate and defensible," the mayor told local government and criminal justice officials gathered for a monthly meeting of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC).

Calling the city's history in dealing with homeless people and panhandlers on city sidewalks a "long strange trip," Hales suggested that the anti-camping and sidewalk management rules he's struggled to implement in recent weeks aren't enough.

"We're seeing now the good and bad of how our own ordinance works," he told the Mercury after the meeting. "We've been putting it through its paces."

He was talking about his efforts, begun in in July, to clear out extensive campsites in and around downtown. The mayor designated sidewalks in front of city hall as a "high-pedestrian zone," thinking that would give police leverage to clear out a longtime clutch of bivouacking protesters. But, while the move scattered campers elsewhere during the day, they were still allowed to bunk down in the outer portion of the sidewalks—knows as the "furnishing zone"—at night.

The distinction has led to officers in some cases taking out rulers to ensure campers are staying on their allotted portion of sidewalk. It's messy.

Hales said he wasn't sure what changes the city would seek, noting any policy shifts would be the result of discussions among his council colleagues and others. He said there may also be a mix of state and local legislation aimed at the issues.

"What it says, we don't know," he said."

Joining Hales in this morning's presentation was Portland Police Chief Mike Reese. Reese showed LPSCC members pictures of homeless camps, and belongings strewn along the sidewalk.

"We did have a sidewalk obstruction ordinance a few years ago. This behavior would not be allowed," said Reese. "You couldn't sit, you had to stand."

But that ordinance—the so-called "sit-lie" law—was tossed by a Multnomah Count Circuit Court Judge in 2009. This past session, the PBA put forth a bill that would've helped to revive the law, but it died in the Senate.

Hales didn't formally endorse that bill but, according to some observers, privately approved of the effort.

One cautionary note came this morning from Multnomah Count District Attorney Rod Underhill, who urged officials to keep their eye on the wider effects of fresh restrictions and enforcement. New laws means potentially more arrests, he noted, adding more people into an already strained courts system.

"If we go down that path, we keep going," Underhill said.

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