Late yesterday afternoon, I worked with Commissioner Fish, Commissioner Saltzman, and Mayor Adams, to put an Ordinance on next Wednesday's Council agenda, for a temporary extension on the Sidewalk Obstructions ordinance that would otherwise sunset (cease to be law) on June 8, 2009. The Sidewalk Obstructions regulations prohibit sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks during daytime hours. The ordinance was adopted more than two years ago as part of a package known as Street Access For Everyone (SAFE). The SAFE committee's November 2008 report is here. It contains 17 recommendations for Council action. On Wednesday 4/29/09, the co-sponsored ordinance will extend the sunset deadline to October 23, 2009, with a public hearing on the substance of the Sidewalk Obstructions ordinance on or before September 16, 2009. I have not yet decided whether I will support the Sidewalk Obstructions ordinance continuing after October.
The reason I support an extension is to give me an opportunity to engage all sides in evaluating whether the SAFE program and Sidewalk Obstructions ordinance have improved public safety, human rights protection, help for people experiencing homelessness, and support for downtown businesses. I also want the Council and citizens to have time to review the SAFE report and recommendations carefully. Neither Commissioner Fish nor I was on the Council when the ordinance was adopted. We want more discussion with the community before a definitive vote on whether to keep the Sidewalk Obstruction law, modify it, or get rid of it. The new sunset on October 23 will allow Commissioner Fish and me to conduct a citywide public discussion on the merits and problems associated with SAFE. I will work with Commissioner Fish and his staff, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, the Office of Human Relations and the Human Rights Commission, and many community groups, to set up the community process and encourage participation and engagement.
In talking with many stakeholders over the past month, the most significant conclusion I reach is that there are many good-hearted people working on this issue who have great moral and ethical values, and who truly care about public safety, human rights, and helping people experiencing homelessness. I want to honor the good work that has been done, provide remedies for ongoing problems and inequities, and find better solutions if possible.
If the Council were to hold a public hearing to decide whether to renew or sunset the Sidewalk Obstruction ordinance in the next few weeks, lots of people would show up to talk for three minutes.... but serial three-minute monologues are not an effective way to evaluate and problem-solve on complex issues. I believe this matter is too important to adopt a "just vote it up or down" approach. And while many people downtown have had many discussions on the SAFE package, other citizens in outer neighborhoods haven't heard as much about it or had opportunities to learn and discuss what they might do to help. Plus, there is simply too much going on right now, with hugely important budget and services decisions to be made as our economy continues to suffer. I want the SAFE committee report to be considered carefully, rather than deciding how to move forward in one hearing followed by, "Thank you, let's sunset" or "Thank you, let's renew". This decision is too important to hurry.
My intent is to allow time for us to work towards reconciliation and improvements. There are so many other challenges swirling around at Council right now, that I believe that either allowing it to sunset, or adopting it permanently, would only result in more arguing and contention, and might cause loss of funding for needed services at least in the short term.
While I understand many would have preferred the Sit-Lie rules to sunset right now, I am truly committed to working during the extension to find better solutions.