PORTLAND'S CONTROVERSIAL sit-lie ordinance is due to sunset on June 8 unless renewed by city council, and the demise of the law looks increasingly likely as a squabble blooms between council and the Portland Business Alliance.
The ordinance bans sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between 7 am and 9 pm, and was first voted through by council on May 9, 2007, to begin scheduled enforcement on June 8, 2007. Subsection N of the ordinance states that the law "shall be effective for two (2) years after enactment unless extended by city council."
That doesn't leave much time to get the law renewed, and the Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee, which crafted the law, has been meeting with city commissioners over the last few weeks to gauge support, which it apparently lacks. Mayor Sam Adams and City Commissioner Dan Saltzman both support renewal of the law, but they lack a third vote on council to win a majority. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has human rights concerns about the ordinance, while City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish are also considering voting against it.
Fish says the reauthorization of the ordinance and funding for his proposed $45.9 million Resource Access Center (RAC) for the homeless in Old Town "go hand in hand." The RAC, which would include shelter beds and job training facilities for the homeless, has been on the drawing board since 2007 under Fish's predecessor, former Commissioner Erik Sten ["Somewhere to Go, Something to Believe In," Feature, Nov 1, 2007]. But it has run into funding problems—primarily because of a lawsuit filed against the city by a group of developers and planning consultants calling themselves the Friends of Urban Renewal.
The Friends of Urban Renewal say the city shouldn't be able to expand the successful River District urban renewal area to finance projects like the RAC. They have taken their concerns to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and are threatening to string its decision-making process along for up to two more years by lodging repeated appeals. Until the LUBA dispute is settled, Fish told council in January, the delay "places a cloud over the city's ability to move forward on a number of projects," including the RAC.
Now, Leonard seems to be using the LUBA dispute as political leverage against the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), which was a driving force behind the sit-lie ordinance back in 2007. Sensing that the renewal of the ordinance could be in jeopardy, PBA spokeswoman Megan Doern told the Oregonian last week that the PBA would not support a council plan to boost the permit fee for sidewalk cafés from $10 to an average $150 if council failed to renew the sit-lie law. The two issues are "very closely linked," she told the paper.
If the PBA's position over permitting fees for sidewalk cafés was intended to influence Leonard to vote to renew the sit-lie law, it has had the opposite effect.
"I don't know if it's a political tactic, but it's a misplaced tactic, and it doesn't influence me," says Leonard. "The [PBA] doesn't get to decide what's permitted by council, we do. I don't blame them for trying to influence what we do, but the best thing [the PBA] could do is use their influence within the business community to get the LUBA appeal dropped that has held up the Resource Access Center."
"We have a few weeks to see if all the pieces come together," says Fish.
"It's not just about the sit/lie ordinance, it's about the accompanying services for the homeless," says Doern from the PBA. "Downtown retailers do not want to be punished for a lawsuit they have nothing to do with."
The Friends of Urban Renewal declined comment by press time.