MAYOR-ELECT SAM ADAMS mistakenly popped his head into Mayor Tom Potter's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee meeting last Thursday, October 16.
"I'm in the wrong place," Adams said, smiling.
"No you're not," replied Marc Jolin, the executive director of homeless nonprofit JOIN.
"Keep making Portland wonderful," Adams retorted spryly, before making a hasty retreat.
It was a telling exchange. With Potter leaving office in January, the future of the oversight group—and the controversial sidewalk-obstruction ordinance it oversees—is in jeopardy. While Adams is thought to be supportive of the group in theory, along with City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, there is uncertainty over who will take over the committee when Potter's term is complete. When the group first convened last April, it agreed to report back to council in a year. It's now been 18 months, and there is no date set for the presentation of the report. The looming election could sway the balance of support for the law on the city council. Meanwhile, the law is set to automatically expire in April 2009 unless it's renewed.
While the SAFE group has managed to secure more day-access space for the homeless, place more benches, and even open new restrooms, there are also lingering concerns about perceived inequities in the enforcement of the law.
Committee Co-Chair Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center said 200 warnings and 52 citations had been issued since August 2007, when the ordinance went into effect. The warnings and citations affected 169 individuals, with 32 repeat warnings and 27 repeat citations given. Of those 169 individuals, 136 were homeless, Goracke said. More concerning to the committee, however, is the fact that while homeless folks are clearly fair game for the enforcement of the law, businesses with un-permitted A-board signs, which block the sidewalk and fall under the auspices of the ordinance, continue to be left alone.
"The circumstances for businesses are different. It doesn't seem reasonable for them," said Deputy District Laurie Abraham, noting a meeting with Portland Business Alliance Vice President Mike Kuykendall and restaurant owners to discuss the implications of the law.
"It seems to me that these businesses should be warned and then cited fairly quickly under the sit-lie law," replied Andrea Meyer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "I don't see that this is an appropriate or consistent policy."
"We have tried as a committee for a year now to get this issue moving forward," said Goracke. "But if at the end of the day this ordinance applies differently to people than to objects, then we do have an equity problem."