If City Commissioner Dan Saltzman gets his way, by next month you could be looking at 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine just for smoking in Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Saltzman's proposed ban on smoking in the square—which is technically a city park—now needs only his sign-off as parks commissioner to take effect. (Insiders say Saltzman could sign the ruling within the month.) Such a rule would not need to be voted on by Portlanders, or even Saltzman's fellow commissioners.
The ban will also undoubtedly have an impact on the older groups of street kids who often gather and smoke in the square otherwise known as "Portland's Living Room"—the same kids often criticized by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) for sullying the public space in the eyes of suburban shoppers.
While referring to the ban, the PBA's "Clean and Safe" director, Bill Sinnott, said this week, "If there's one group that—in my opinion—really makes people afraid downtown, it's these kids."
The ban would be enforced in the square by the PBA's security arm, Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI)—and those continuing to smoke there could be banned from going near Pioneer Square; in the first instance for 30 days, then for up to 180 days. Smokers would be subject to subsequent arrest for trespassing if they break the exclusion.
"If it's a rule, then we'll enforce it," says PPI head John Hren. Pushed for his opinion on whether tackling smoking downtown is a priority for ensuring shoppers' security, Hren told the Mercury, "I don't have an opinion. I'm the boss of PPI." According to Saltzman's office, the park is city property, run by a nonprofit corporation with private security—leaving his office with the authority to make and enforce rules as he sees fit.
Those convicted of violating a PPI exclusion—of a class C misdemeanor trespass—can then face up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine. This is according to the district attorney's office, which has yet to be consulted on the ban.
"This is the first I've heard of it," says District Attorney Michael Schrunk. "I'd want to take a step back and ask, 'Can we accomplish this with something else?' Smoking is no good for you, but then, neither is eating a cheeseburger and we're not outlawing that."