A commentator on KBOO, Seaton was one of many community members testifying last Wednesday at city council. All told, two testified for the proposed ordinance while 10 testified against. During the testimony, Mayor Katz and city council members offered what they said was their heartfelt concern for the city's less fortunate--but ultimately, these expressions of concern and compassion were feigned gestures, as each member went on to support the ordinance.
A year ago a similar ordinance was struck down by a circuit court judge as unconstitutional because its enforcement seemed to be aimed at the homeless, and failed to determine exactly what type of behavior was a violation. Such vagueness left enforcement up to officers--a discretion that ended up unfairly targeting homeless and "undesirables," say civil rights attorneys and homeless advocates.
During his testimony, Marc Jolin from the Oregon Law Center pointed out the law was a veiled attempt at criminalizing homeless men and women; if the concern is about keeping the sidewalks clear for pedestrian traffic, he asked, why doesn't it also address the restaurants that place tables and chairs on public walkways? The implicit point Jolin made was that the ordinance was really about creating a shopper-friendly downtown environment.
This point was underscored by the only two people who testified for the ordinance, saying that its passage would help the "public walk freely from location to location." In an ironic holiday touch, Kevin Montgomery-Smith of the Portland Business Alliance went on to say it was unfortunate that we had to pass laws "to remind people to be kind to one another."