by Anna Simon

"Time, place, and manner" ordinances are almost always controversial. They regulate exactly when and how a business may conduct itself. And usually, they are directed at strip clubs or taverns--those businesses that most often offend the "moral character" of neighborhoods.

For the past year, there have been rumors about a few such ordinances in Portland. This past fall, for example, the Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments that would allow the small eastern Oregon town of Nyssa to regulate a strip joint with rules requiring patrons to stay at least six feet away from the dancers. If successful, that case would roll back free speech protections throughout the state, and open the door for Portland's city council to vote for strip club zoning laws here.

Last Wednesday, at a special evening session, city council considered one such "time, place, and manner" ordinance--this one directed at so-called nuisance liquor stores and taverns. The reception was deeply divided, with neighborhood groups lining up on one side, and business owners and the Oregon Restaurant Association on the other. The debate went on so long Wednesday night that city council held the matter over for one week in order to hear more testimony. This Wednesday, January 28 (after press time), city council is expected to approve the ordinance.

The ordinance is the brainchild of Commissioner Randy Leonard, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. Under the pending ordinance, if any liquor store or bar receives three complaints within a month, they would be subject to stern regulations, such as limited operating hours. Those pending threats have bar owners crying foul already.

"We already have to monitor how much alcohol people are drinking," says Tim Harris, a co-owner of The Basement Pub in Southeast Portland, and a bartender for 10 years. "But with this ordinance, we'd have to be block-watchers as well." Under the ordinance, a business could receive a complaint if a rowdy patron hoots and hollers down the street or urinates in a neighbor's lawn.

Opponents also questioned whether the ordinance duplicates efforts by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), as well as the job the police should already be doing. Currently, most bars and liquor stores are part of "good neighbor" agreements with the neighborhood where they are located--a pact that resolves small nuisances.

Another prime concern for both proponents and opponents of the ordinance is the tricky task of validating complaints against an establishment.

"In some neighborhoods, where there are several places serving alcohol," points out Patrick Copollo, co-owner of the Crow Bar on North Mississippi, "there isn't a good system to verify that a person throwing bottles came from one place or another." Copollo goes on to explain, "It's hard enough to open and run a business in Portland. This ordinance seems like it's singling out businesses that serve alcohol."

City council will hold another hearing this week, in which heavyweight lobbyists like the Oregon Restaurant Association are expected to do their best to sway the city back from the edge. But with a generally agreeable council, the ordinance is expected to pass.