People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
City Hall Pushes Two Homeless Rights Protests Off Its Stoop
KOIN-TV (6) ran a number of self congratulatory clips taking credit for Mayor Hales' mid-July decision to clear the sidewalk in front of City Hall of those who had been camping there in protest for well over 18 months. The Oregonian ran cold hearted editorials with headlines blaring, "Downtown's Mean Streets," and "Hosing the Campers Away." Much of the hysteria revolved around an incident in which an elderly man had been hit in the head by a skate board allegedly wielded by a street person. The Oregonian indicated this incident signals a form of "anarchy"* and blamed a Judge's decision that the previous Sit/Lie ordinance was unconstitutional, along with the Legislature's failure to establish a law regarding sidewalk behavior (Oregonian, July 21). No one denies that a crime was committed, the person responsible should be arrested and the case dealt with through the justice system. That is true for every law that is broken, and people on sidewalks committing infractions could be cited or arrested, as Portland Copwatch (PCW) has pointed out repeatedly. To tar every houseless person is biased and prejudicial.
Mayor Hales and his Communications Director, Dana Haynes, spoke of people being afraid to come into City Hall, and of shouted obscenities, drug use, fighting and sex being engaged in by the campers. Mayor Hales and Central Precinct Commander Bob Day announced that a High Pedestrian Zone was being established under the Sidewalk Management ordinance (Sit/Lie 4.0) which would be in force 24 hours per day. It was soon clarified that the law only allows the Zone to be in effect from 7 AM to 9 PM and that campers could sleep at City Hall overnight. Police calmly cleared the sidewalks on July 23rd as most of the protesters voluntarily relocated while the area was pressure washed.
Portland Copwatch met with Mayor Hales and three of his staff on July 22 and raised concerns about the then-proposed eviction as well as the ordinance. Mayor Hales kept referring to the 600,000 people he felt were not able to access City Hall because of the campers and he indicated he envisioned food carts and retail by the front steps. He failed to see that lines at food carts will likely impede pedestrian travel more than the campers have. On August 19, the food carts and tables were installed with no public discussion.
On July 24, PCW sent an e-mail to Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz pointing out that the City should have engaged in a more thoughtful process than unilaterally re-zoning City properties and shutting off the First Amendment rights of all Portlanders at the seat of City Government. PCW opined that a lawsuit may well eventually overturn plans to require permits for First Amendment activities supplanted by the food carts. We further pointed out that the decision to reclassify the sidewalk outside City Hall and three other buildings as special sidewalks with only "through pedestrian zones" and nowhere to sit or lie appears to violate the Sit/Lie ordinance (#183754): "The Director of the Bureau of Transportation may expand the pedestrian use zone defined to encompass an entire sidewalk, but only in response to a heightened threat to the life or safety of non-pedestrian users." While there have been allegations of profanity and name calling, even if true, they are still First Amendment protected and hardly constitute a "heightened threat to life or safety."
PCW further stated that the City is not following an October 2010 Resolution (#36743) which provided for an ongoing program to monitor the current Sidewalk Management Plan with an oversight committee including representatives from all stakeholders. Commissioner Fritz was responsible for this but disbanded the group in October 2012.
As reported in PPR #59, the Portland Business Alliance drew up Oregon House Bill 2963 to prohibit the state from preempting a city's authority to control or regulate the use of its sidewalks. The bill was passed by the House on a 57-2 vote, but then died in late May when the Senate Judiciary Committee did not vote to pass it on to the Senate floor--in part because two legislators had rejected it. Communications Director Haynes told one radio station that the city was supportive of the bill being reintroduced.
The Portland Mercury reported on the Mayor convening a "homeless task force" (our term, not the Mayor's) on June 25. The meeting was closed to the public (including homeless people). Those attending included a former Assistant Police Chief who now works for the Portland Business Alliance and lobbied for HB 2963, members of the Bureau, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the District Attorney's Office. Social service providers included were from JOIN, Central City Concern and Transition Projects, Inc., though Doreen Binder, the TPI representative, lobbied for HB 2963 (Portland Mercury, July 3). The Mercury's Blog (August 2) reported a second meeting of the group was held in July, adding folks from the Julia West House, Father's House, and Janus Youth, but still no homeless people--or venerable homeless empowerment group Sisters Of The Road. Obviously, the Mayor and his staff disregarded PCW's advice to make these meetings public and more diverse. To his credit, after Commissioner Nick Fish and others began pushing back on the sidewalk crack-downs, Hales invited Street Roots and now-Housing Commisisoner Dan Saltzman--but not the PBA--to another meeting held August 14 (Mercury Blog).
In related news, a decision will soon be forthcoming in the case of Right To Dream Too v. City of Portland and involves fines being levied against the rest area and their landlord as the City is determined to label R2DToo as a recreational campground (PPR #58). The City asked that the case be dismissed as R2DToo failed to exhaust administrative remedies and filed directly in Court. Commissioner Fritz, who recently was assigned the Bureau levying the fines on R2DToo, seems interested in a solution but probably can't act until the lawsuit is resolved.
*-We assume they mean "chaos"
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.