Portland Copwatch contacted you on January 26th after learning that the Portland Business Alliance was asking for a large number of new "homeless-free zones." (That email is attached, below.) In that letter we recommended that decisions about adding exclusions should be considered publicly, perhaps by the oversight committee that was required when the SMO was adopted but which was disbanded in 2012. Yet now we've read in the Portland Mercury that outreach was done to a small number of homeless advocacy organizations and the decision was made behind closed doors.
While it is good that the Bureau of Transportation has now published specific criteria for sidewalks to be exempted from persons (with nowhere else to go) sitting or lying on them, and that most of the PBA's requests are not being fulfilled, we're still troubled by the process.
We promote police accountability, and do not specifically speak for people who are homeless, though police treatment of that community is one of our high priorities. We spoke out against the Mayor's clearing out of the ongoing protest at City Hall (in favor of food carts) and have been opponents of anti-homeless laws such as the anti-camping ordinance and its associated sweeps, the most recent round of which seem to have violated the spirit of that law (and the settlement reached with the Oregon Law Center about respecting property and giving extended warnings, among other things).
That said, it is very odd that an organization like ours would contact a City Commissioner expressing an interest in a specific subject like this and then not receive any information about the ongoing process until it was done.
On March 27, we called and followed up on the January email, at which point Mr. Hockaday let us know that PBOT had done some preliminary number crunching and was reaching out to "stakeholders," adding that they would definitely be taking public input before making any decisions.
Portland Copwatch recontacted Mr. Hockaday repeatedly in May, with at least three emails and a phone call. On May 28 he contacted Regina Hannon and said he would get back with more information. When Ms. Hannon followed up on June 5, the response was a June 10 email including the zones being decided upon.
We're always concerned about the issues we hear from people living on the streets-- officers or private security taking their belongings, including sleeping bags, medication and identification. The Police Bureau's attitude during these current sweeps that they're doing a favor by giving the folks they're forcing to move a list of resources doesn't help when none of those are safe places to stay with no waiting list. And all the while we have no idea how often police are "moving people along" using the sidewalk ordinance by giving verbal/written warnings or tickets, because the collection of such data seems to have stopped when the oversight group was disbanded. Those data included how often people were approached by the Mounted Patrol, as well as the race/ethnicity of the people contacted. If PBOT is supposedly making decisions about which sidewalks have too much foot traffic to allow for people to sit or lie on the outermost curbs, it seems they should also be seeing how often people are allegedly violating the current bans.
We look forward to your specific invitation to a public process before the July 1 date for the new provisions kicking in.
Dan Handelman, Regina Hannon, Mike Tabor and other members of
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:18:24
From: Portland Copwatch < firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Commissioner Steve Novick < email@example.com>
Subject: REQUEST: Public process for sidewalk changes
Subject: Expansion of "high traffic pedestrian zones" downtown
Now that the Street Fee issue is on hold, we want to weigh in on another issue in which the Portland Business Alliance is seeking to use its influence: The proposed designation of more "high traffic pedestrian zones" downtown, which would preclude people from sitting or lying on the sidewalk in those areas.
We believe that any further expansion of these zones-- and in fact, retroactively the expansion that led to the sidewalks of City Hall being declared off-limits-- must be subjected to a public process.
The current version of the Sit/Lie ordinance, which we refer to as #4.0, was supposed to be accompanied by a permanent community advisory body which would receive data and weigh in on the use of the "Sidewalk Management Ordinance" and the tickets/warnings given out for violations (as well as a number of arrests that occurred only because the ordinance gives officers a pretext to stop people). That body stopped meeting in October, 2012 just prior to the elections which brought you and Mayor Hales onto the Council.
This has meant not only that Mayor Hales was able to unilaterally call for the end of a nearly 2-year vigil on City Hall's sidewalks (and a spiritual shrine that had been there just as long) but also that the data on how often officers hand out warnings/tickets and to whom those are given have not been published.
We hope you will consider re-forming the advisory body or at least holding a few ad-hoc meetings to examine the current state of affairs. The previous data were very clear: that people without addresses were the primary targets of this law. Toward the end, the number of times the Mounted Patrol handed out warnings/tickets, and the percentage of people targeted who were African American, began to decrease, but we don't know if that pattern held since there are no numbers to examine.
We look forward to your response.
dan handelman and regina hannon