Portland city officials and police will unleash an aggressive new enforcement regime for the city's 'Obstructions as Nuisances' law, commonly known as the 'Sit-Lie Ordinance'. In an August 11 email to Marc Jolin of the Oregon Law Center, Deputy City Attorney David Woboril wrote that 'Mayor Katz has asked me to make available to you revised sidewalk obstruction guidelines which will become effective this week.' Woboril also delivered a draft copy of the revised guidelines, hatched in the corridors of city power without input from the public.
'These new guidelines are more narrow than the guidelines released last summer,' Woboril's email continued, 'but allow broader enforcement than has been occurring since last September. The guidelines released last summer have been limited to violations occurring in the pedestrian through zone. These guidelines allow enforcement of Portland City Code 14A.50.030 on all parts of the sidewalks, and allow limited enforcement during expressive events.'
Under the guidelines released by the Mayor in September 2002, an exception to the ordinance was allowed for persons participating or observing an 'event'. Members of the Portland Peace Encampment, a 24-hour per day vigil that has occupied sidewalk space across 4th Avenue from City Hall since the American war on Iraq turned up on March 20, have repeatedly claimed an exemption from the law because their vigil is an ongoing event. In a tacit acknowledgement of the effectiveness of the Peace Encampment's argument, the revised rule states that police 'shall not enforce PCC 14A.50.030 against a person standing in a through pedestrian zone as part of a crowd that has formed to participate in or observe an expressive event UNLESS THE EVENT HAS LASTED MORE THAN EIGHT HOURS.'
'It is obscene that the public officials of Portland are putting time constraints on our first amendment rights to freely speak and peacefully assemble in response to our 24-hour vigil for our brothers and sisters who are suffering needlessly due to this heinous war of terror,' said Todd Kurylowicz, a longtime camp member, when he learned of the addition of the 8-hour time limit for 'expressive events' under the revised rule. Kurylowicz and other Peace Encampment members vowed to continue the vigil despite the revision.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard visited the Encampment on Thursday, July 31 to warn the vigil that the city planned to 'escalate' tactics against the camp and against the homeless and poor of Portland with no place to go but the street. According to crossroads, an advocacy group for the homeless and poor of Portland, at least 1500 individuals are outdoors every night in Portland, while the city maintains only about 370 shelter beds. Members of crossroads met Tuesday morning to discuss their response to the new enforcement regime.
City Attorney Woboril's email stated that the rule will only be enforced in the downtown area bordered by the Willamette River and the freeways, and on commercial streets in Northwest Portland. Woboril also wrote that the ordinance will only be enforced by a limited number of Central Precinct police officers who have been specially trained to do so by the city.