Mayor Vera Katz called a press conference this morning (8-16-02) to announce new enforcement guidelines for the cities existing obstructions as nuisances law. (Please see enclosed) The new guidelines will effectively allow enforcement of the law against anyone sitting or standing on a public sidewalk.
When the legislative process to enact a "sit-lie-stand" ordinance began last winter, the City responded to pressure against the law by to opening the process up to community involvement. The mayors press conference today sidestepped that process. Present at the conference were the Portland Police Bureau, The Portland Business Alliance, The District Attorney and The City Attorney. Excluded were the ACLU, Oregon Law Center, Metropolitan Public Defenders Office and crossroads, a people's organization allied with Sisters Of The Road Cafe Inc.
At the conference, the Mayor told the press that Sisters Of The Road Café was one of her partners. Genny Nelson, Sisters' Director of Community Organizing, has responded to this, saying "The process we have been a partner in was to narrowly define this law to simply address aggressive harassment, and to provide alternative solutions to the revisions to Title 14. Sisters and crossroads have brought and continue to bring creative solutions to the table that come from men and women directly dealing with homelessness." Sisters and crossroads continue to oppose the enactment of a "sit-lie-stand" law.
Title 14 is the section of city code that governs the use public space. Over the past several years, the City Attorney's office began a process of rewriting this section of the city code. This revision was intended only to clarify the language in this code and to bring it into compliance with state law. In January of this year, attorneys from the Oregon Law Center, the ACLU of Oregon, and the Metropolitan Public Defenders objected to 13 of the proposed revisions in Title 14, which they said would "enact numerous new criminal offenses and . . . vastly expand the offenses that already exist." In April 9 more of the revision were opposed by the peoples organization, crossroads.
The most famous of these new criminal offenses is the proposed "Sit/Lie" ordinance. As written, the "Sit/Lie" ordinance made it illegal for a person to stand, sit or lie on a public right of way if that conduct " 'would cause' a pedestrian or other user of 'any part' of the right of way reasonably to take action to move around or avoid" that person. "Because at any time a person stand, sits, or lies on the sidewalk she 'would cause' another using that particular area of the side walk to take action to move around her, the ordinance can be read to permit law enforcement officers to treat, any sitting, lying or standing on public right of way as criminal conduct."
Due to these legal objections and concerns raised by the community, the City Attorney's Office removed most of the objected to measures, including the "sit/lie" ordinance, from the new Title 14 passed last April. These measures will be given separate consideration by the City Council beginning some time this fall. Mayor Katz is now saying that she will not pursue the "sit/lie" measure but instead seems to be relying on the new enforcement guidelines for the "Obstructions as Nuisances" law to create a de facto "sit/lie" ordinance. The new guidelines will go into effect as soon as the Portland Police are prepared to implement them.