Mayor Sam Adams has been sitting through the testimony on the new sit-lie law in council this afternoon. I'd be down there in person, but we've been doing endorsement interviews here at the Mercury, so I've been catching up on the end of the session over the council video. Best quote of the afternoon so far comes from City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. "The Portland Business Alliance are human beings too," she said. "And they have human rights."
After being accused of the usual litany of things—seriously, how many times have we sat through debates over this issue and heard the same accusations from both sides?—the mayor has used a variety of responses, mainly thanking people for their testimony. Respectful people can disagree, and so on. But I don't think he is grateful for their testimony. I think he's just willing to suffer through it to get the so-called "sidewalk management ordinance" through, and move on. He's even sat through a song by busker Barry Joe Stull, singing:
"Portland is my city, and it has a housing crisis.
You respond with meanness when you could respond with niceness.
There's many more of us to shoot.
That you choose to fund the police is at this problem's root.
We wouldn't sleep on sidewalks if you gave us just one park.
Portland is my city and it has a housing crisis.
You respond with meanness when you could respond with niceness."
"Very nicely delivered, lyrically," said Adams. How can he mean that, sincerely? How? I mean, it just has to be sarcastic, that comment.
Later, "I'm listening," he said. "I'm listening."
What do you think?
"If you think we're going to get sued on this aspect," said Adams, later. "Just wait until we come forward with newspaper ordinances."
"Where is the outcry for this ordinance? Where is the support for this ordinance?" asked Dan Handelman with Portland Copwatch. "We all know that it's the Portland Business Alliance."
The ordinance hasn't passed today, and has been sent back for some additions. It'll come back next Thursday, May 6, for a vote.
Particularly, the question that was raised was, why would the ordinance include an exception for a gathering of more than three people in the pedestrian zone as 'free speech?' City Attorney David Woboril said as long as there was a group of more than three people on the sidewalk, they wouldn't get moved on under the new law because it could qualify as a 'free speech event.'
"Therein lies the balance," says Randy Leonard. "We've got to be very careful in this state in terms of our free speech balance. I think we need to have more conversations about free speech events versus simply sitting or lying. And if we somehow confuse the two, then we're going to potentially get ourselves in trouble."
"If people want to stand outside McDonalds with signs that say 'don't eat the meat in this restaurant'," said city attorney David Woboril. "This doesn't touch that."
"But how do we know that three people who are homeless and when they're approached, they say, 'we're immensely communicating with each other about the meat in this restaurant, telepathically protesting the use of meat in this restaurant', how do we regulate that?" asked Leonard.
It wasn't clear. So that's going back to the city attorney's office for more work.
"My concern is, why would we allow anybody to sit in the pedestrian zone, regardless of their free speech status?" asked Amanda Fritz.
"We believe that's defensible," said Woboril. "We believe you take less risk, the less you prohibit."
Because it's defensible.