THE MAYOR'S controversial Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) oversight committee has lambasted city council for failing to adequately support its efforts to implement a sit-lie law, in a damning progress report to be submitted by the end of the month.
"I think what's most important is getting substantive information in front of council and giving them the chance to decide what to do next," says JOIN Executive Director Marc Jolin, a committee member.
The draft report, which the Mercury obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request this week, says a lack of support from the city to address equity issues associated with the ordinance—such as the way the law is enforced—has "unfortunately allowed critics to question the integrity of the SAFE initiative."
With a new council in January that seems less favorable to upholding a sit-lie law, the future of the entire process now appears to hang in the balance. So far, no city commissioner has expressed interest in continuing the SAFE committee's work when Mayor Tom Potter steps down in January.
"The issue is that the amount of staff time and institutional support allocated to the committee from both city hall and the relevant bureaus has at times not been adequate to allow for timely resolution of important implementation problems," the report says, effectively challenging the city to step up and support the law, or come up with an alternative when the law sunsets in May 2009.
The sidewalk obstruction law, as the ordinance is officially called, has been contentious since it went into effect in August 2007, drawing particular concerns among the homeless advocacy community that it was having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. For example, 133 of the 170 individuals who received warnings and citations under the law reported being homeless.
In addition, members of the oversight committee have been "very frustrated," says the report, with the lack of progress made on enforcing the law against objects left on sidewalks by businesses, even though the law technically applies to them, too.
"The SAFE oversight committee recognizes that this is fundamentally unfair and inconsistent with the stated purpose of the ordinance, which is to ensure that the sidewalks remain free of obstructions," says the report. "It is particularly troubling given the high rate at which written warnings and citations are going to individuals who identify themselves as homeless."
The committee has been unable to get the city to enforce the law equitably against sidewalk cafés and un-permitted A-board signs. "To the best of our knowledge, no citations have been issued," says the report.