ON APRIL 29, CITY COUNCIL will consider yet another iteration of its controversial sit-lie ordinance, which bans sitting or lying on parts of the downtown sidewalks during certain times of the day.
Mayor Sam Adams is being careful to describe the new law as a "Sidewalk Management Plan" and not a "sit-lie law," but it bears a striking resemblance to the old law. The new plan asks that citizens be on foot in an eight-foot "pedestrian-use zone" on the sidewalk, to accommodate people with disabilities.
Effectively that means that homeless people who want to sit on the city's sidewalks will be kicked to the two feet nearest the curb. Still, it's moderately better than last time, when there was nowhere legal for them to sit.
Last Friday night, April 16, the Downtown Chapel on 6th and West Burnside moved its line of chairs from alongside the church to the curbside, as a way of figuring out how to comply with the proposed law. Tired homeless people waited for up to two hours for a meal as the rush-hour traffic sped by, inches behind them.
Mayor Adams and City Commissioner Nick Fish got rid of the last version of the law last September, after a judge ruled it unconstitutional ["We Mean it This Time," News, Sept 17]. Since then Adams has been under vociferous pressure from lobbying groups like the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) to come up with a new version.
The PBA met with or called city staffers more than any other lobbying entity between September and December 2009, according to the city's latest lobbying reports.
"This looks like the same old policy being recycled," says Patrick Nolen, co-director of homeless nonprofit Soapbox under the Bridge.
"If the business community wants a viable downtown, funding affordable housing is a solid economic strategy." continues Nolen—who fought the old sit-lie law in his previous role as community organizer at nonprofit café Sisters of the Road.
Others are concerned that the new law treats patrons at sidewalk restaurants differently than those who are simply down on their luck.
"This is classist," says Chani Geigle-Teller, who recently took over Nolen's old role at Sisters. "The whole premise is, if you have money to make a purchase and be seated at a restaurant, then you have the right to be in these public spaces and enjoy them. Basically, you're buying your right to be there."
Mayor Adams disagrees.
"I've got folks on the business side who are convinced that this is just selling out, or giving up regulatory control on the sidewalk," he says. "And I've got folks on the other side convinced this is targeting homeless people.
"Unfortunately I'm never going to get unanimity on this issue," Adams continues. "So I'm going for what I think is common sense and compassionate."