For the past two years, the sit-lie ordinance has been a thorn in the side of activists and homeless. Both have complained that the police and Vera Katz have used it as a big stick to move the "types" they don't like away from downtown.
However, this coming week, city hall is allowing, on its lawn, a "picnic basket social." The event is a fundraiser for the James Beard Public Market. While the picnic is a quaint gesture towards helping small businesses, it clearly points out the inconsistencies in the enforcement of the sit-lie ban. Those willing to pay $50 for a gourmet picnic dinner are allowed to loiter around city hall; activists and homeless are not.
Just days before the young woman and two activists were arrested for violating the sit-lie ordinance, Katz changed the ruling, making it easier for police to enforce the ban. Many believe the impetus for those changes was to clear out the Peace Encampment, which, since March, had occupied the sidewalk across from city hall as an anti-war protest.
Similar laws in other cities have been smacked down by the courts as unconstitutional, since they criminalize the otherwise harmless acts of stopping, standing, and loitering. That the ordinance is not enforced equally further exposes its legal flaws and underlying meanness.
Don't get me wrong: The picnic is a lovely idea. I'm pro-small business and most definitely pro-picnic. But this event points out the disturbing trend of Katz having turned the city into an exclusive clique, one that favors a certain posh demographic and pushes out "undesirables."
Moreover, the picnic does not even lend the substantive and far-reaching support small businesses need. Given the lack of other support from city hall, it's a feigned gesture of concern. Katz has spent her tenure wooing mega-corporations instead of simplifying code requirements for small businesses. City hall can to do more than host a late-summer evening picnic. It needs to implement tax incentives and give breaks to small businesses. PHIL BUSSE