Mayor Sam Adams and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz met with homeless advocates this afternoon to talk about the city's replacement to the unconstitutional sit/lie law. Adams opened the meeting—which was attended by reporters from KGW, KBOO, Street Roots and the Mercury—by asking that the media agree to some "ground rules." If someone wanted to say something they preferred to be kept off the record, they should say so, and the press should agree to abide by that agreement.
The Mercury declined. Our attorneys were of the opinion that we were entitled to report on the meeting, and that if we weren't, then the city was obligated under Oregon's open meetings law to give us the specific reason why not. Fortunately nobody at the meeting wanted his or her words kept secret:
During the meeting, the advocates expressed the same concerns they have been voicing for years about ordinances that are targeted specifically against homeless people. If we’re having a problem with harassment or drug activity, asked Brendan Phillips, a community organizer with Sisters of the Road, why don’t we enforce those laws against people instead of creating a broad over-arching ordinance that simply targets homeless people?
“The vast majority of the folks out there slinging dope are standing up,” said Street Roots director Israel Bayer. “We agree 110 percent that there are x,y and z problems around drugs, we’re just not sure using sit/lie is the appropriate way to tackle those problems.”
Adams said he plans to craft a sidewalk management package that takes all the laws about sidewalk obstruction—covering sidewalk cafes, A-boards, newspaper boxes, and so on, as well as access and passage issues on the sidewalk, and put them all under one umbrella of city code. But he also acknowledged that city council is on the third, “or is it fourth?” iteration of trying to regulate its sidewalks for these issues, and said he wanted to make sure that the new ordinance passes constitutional muster as well as being simple enough for everyone to understand.
Then, Fritz said something marvelous: “We get it, we heard, sit/lie is gone.” Let’s hope she says the same thing to the business folks next week. We have a request in to the mayor's office to find out when that meeting is going to be taking place, and will keep you posted.
Attorney Chris O'Connor, who has organized a 350-strong advocacy group against renewal of the law on Facebook, was called by the mayor's public advocate Amy Stevens four minutes before the meeting. She left a message for O'Connor, saying he wouldn't be welcome, she thought:
"It's Amy Stevens from Mayor Adams' office, sorry I'm just now getting back with you. I've looked into the meeting, and it's really an internal working meeting. I've heard that the media wants to be there and I'm not sure that that's going to be allowed for the actual working meeting, because it's really just brainstorming, exploring background, trying to figure out what are the biggest problems, that kind of thing."
"I have made note that you are against sit/lie, and I also want to say that in some ways, Mayor Adams is too—he does not want to stop homeless from being able to curl up and sleep on a park bench if that's the only place that they can sleep at night. He's more interested in making sure that there are facilities for the homeless, and in keeping the downtown safe for downtown tourists, retailers and business owners. And not that there's an increase in criminal risk, but just keeping the sidewalks open and people able to move about easily. So, trying to strike a balance, and it's not an easy task, but we're working on it."
"It didn't sound like I was going to be very welcome at the meeting," says O'Connor. "But Commissioner Fritz was very gracious when she saw me walk in. Unfortunately I had a trial to get to on an actual criminal case, but I'd certainly have loved to participate. I hope they have real public meetings on this before a council vote, with more than 23 hours' notice, and mixed messages about whether or not the meetings are public."
"Part of my concern is they are determined to have a sit/lie ordinance," says O'Connor. "When perhaps the real question is whether or not they even need one, and I heard that raised more than once at the meeting."