Downtown Portland's Sit-Lie Ordinance (or, formally, the Obstructions as Nuisance ordinance) was supposed to sunset on June 15. But thanks to a push from the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), the council will likely extend the law—which largely targets downtown's homeless population, by prohibiting sitting, kneeling, or creating "a trip hazard or obstruction" on the sidewalks. The extension could last for six months, giving the law's supporters a chance to make the ordinance even stronger.
"The downtown business and residential community is very concerned about nuisance behavior in downtown Portland," the PBA's Mike Kuykendall wrote in a letter to the mayor's office on May 1, urging the extension. "We believe that the ordinance as written does not accomplish the objectives intended by council... Members of the downtown business and residential communities regularly indicate to us that the criminal behavior intended to be controlled by the ordinance has only worsened since its passage."
To be sure, the Sit-Lie Ordinance hasn't had a huge, measurable impact on downtown's sidewalks: According to the PBA's letter, the police have only issued five citations under the ordinance in the last 16 months (under the law, cops must give a warning first, giving someone a chance to stop blocking the sidewalk). However, downtown crime is down 19 percent since last year.
Maria Rubio—Mayor Tom Potter's public safety and security policy advisor—says the city will be forming a new committee to "focus more broadly" on downtown issues, like the Sit-Lie Ordinance.
Monica Goracke, staff attorney with the Oregon Law Center's Homeless Law Project, heard Rubio's pitch at last week's Downtown Public Safety Action Committee meeting. "The mayor wants to look very broadly at issues impacting downtown and come up with some potential changes over a period of time," Goracke says. But it's unclear to her what changes groups like the PBA are actually seeking.
"I'm not sure exactly what problems they're really concerned about, or how a different Sit-Lie Ordinance would address those problems. We have laws that address harassment and other behavior. They did not say anything specific about what kinds of behavior they are concerned about that's not already illegal."