City Commissioner Randy Leonard has launched a public attack on the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and Mayor Tom Potter over their controversial sit-lie ordinance. Last week, Leonard accused the business lobby and the mayor of being "disingenuous" in their efforts to get council to sign off on enforcement of the law by opening a 24-hour restroom at city hall.
The sit-lie law is the outcome of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) committee, which last December promised city council more benches, restrooms, and a day-access center for downtown's homeless, in exchange for making it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk during the day.
But Leonard thinks the PBA—which is widely regarded as the driving force behind the law—and the mayor's office, are overeager to see it enforced before the attendant compromises are in place. Moreover, Leonard seems to have lost patience with what he sees as their attempts to score political revenge with him over the issue—by opening up a restroom at city hall, for example—rather than truly address the needs of downtown's homeless.
"The mayor's office and the PBA are playing 'gotcha' with me," Leonard told the Mercury last Thursday, August 9. "And one should avoid getting into a wrestling match with a pig, because you're going to get dirty and the pig likes it."
Leonard last opposed enforcement of the law in council on June 13, and secured two more votes to delay enforcement until showers at a day-access center, lockers, benches, and a 24-hour bathroom were fully implemented.
The other services—the day center, lockers, and benches—were just getting off the ground in June and are now all in place, but a 24-hour restroom presented a higher hurdle for the SAFE committee. As a solution, the PBA's vice president of downtown services, Mike Kuykendall, raised the idea of opening city hall's restrooms at a meeting on June 21—not long after Leonard originally raised his objections.
"I think everybody needs to be stepping up to the plate and doing their part," Kuykendall said. "This group agrees city hall is the best location for the restroom, since it's inside, and it's warm, and secure."
As a result, city hall's restrooms were opened to the public overnight, for a six-month trial period, starting August 2. But Leonard thinks opening city hall's restrooms is a political copout for the committee, because the homeless do not tend to congregate anywhere near city hall, at SW 4th and Madison.
"Attempting to open city hall's restrooms is a disingenuous attempt to comply with city council's direction, because there is nobody down here within blocks at night," says Leonard. "The homeless are in Old Town, and in Pioneer Courthouse Square. So my suggestion to the mayor was, if you want to avoid a conflict, open the restrooms at Pioneer Courthouse Square or at NW 1st and Davis." Otherwise, Leonard has told Mayor Potter he'll oppose enforcement of the law again, at a vote slated for Wednesday, August 15.
Leonard is gearing up for a fight—and with fellow Commissioner Erik Sten out of town on vacation this week, it will be up to him and the mayor to pig-wrestle over the deciding vote of Commissioner Sam Adams, who voted with Leonard against enforcing the ordinance last time around.
"The best place for a 24-hour restroom is in the central core of downtown," says Adams, who says he is still deciding which way to vote. "But I think the 24-hour restroom here at city hall will suffice for now."
"The [SAFE] Oversight Committee had no intent to be disingenuous or to disregard Council's direction," said its co-chairs, Kuykendall and Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center, in a statement to the Mercury on Tuesday.