Downtown exclusion zone approved

The Ashland City Council has followed through on its plan to ban repeat offenders from the downtown area, but councilors bowed to homeless advocates' concerns and removed camping on public property as a violation that would count toward the city's new three-strikes-and-you're-out law.

Offenses that will count toward the three strikes law include drinking alcohol in public, having an open container of alcohol in public, public urination, unnecessary noise, assault and harassment.

Councilors decided to remove camping on public property, which is illegal in Ashland, from the list of offenses. Some residents had said that including that offense was a way of targeting homeless people.

The qualifying offenses will have to be committed downtown to count.

If a person commits three offenses within a six-month period, the person will be banned from the downtown for three months. A banned person who police find downtown can be arrested for trespassing and taken to Jackson County Jail in Medford.

"This is about behavior and having consequences for behavior that people actually will respond to," said Councilor Russ Silbiger, who voted for the exclusion zone in Tuesday's meeting.

He said many repeat offenders ignore their court fines or don't appear in court at all, but do value their ability to hang out downtown.

"It astounds me when you hear the number of violations people will do if there are no consequences," Silbiger said.

In 2011, the top 10 violators had 184 citations and arrests among them. During the first four months of this year, the top 10 violators had 64 citations or arrests, according to the Ashland Police Department.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse, a former police officer, said some people have been behaving as if they are above the law.

"This ordinance says we should all be treated equally," said Lemhouse, who joined Silbiger along with Councilors Dennis Slattery, Mike Morris and David Chapman in supporting the exclusion zone.

Councilor Carol Voisin voted against the downtown exclusion zone.

"Bad behavior is in the eye of the beholder," Voisin said, after noting that downtown skateboarders can pose more of a risk than people who are drinking in public.

She said the city of Ashland is failing to address the underlying causes of much of the negative downtown behavior, including mental illness and alcoholism.

Also Tuesday night, councilors voted to create a new violation — persistent failure to appear in court. People can be cited if they don't show up in court three times over a one-year period.

It's not clear yet how many people could be affected by the downtown exclusion zone law.

In 2011, 35 people had three or more downtown violations over the 12-month period. The data does not specify how many people had three or more violations in a six-month period, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said.

Holderness said Ashland already has an exclusion zone covering Lithia Park which has proven effective.

During a time period in which different people committed 146 violations in Lithia Park, none committed three or more violations in the park, he said.

"We think it's because of the exclusion zone," Holderness said.

He noted that Ashland's new downtown exclusion zone law does not cover behavior that bothers residents and tourists but is not considered a crime, such as making lewd comments.

"But we believe that a lot of the same people who are committing crimes are also doing things that are not considered crimes," Holderness said.

The downtown exclusion zone law includes some exceptions, including allowing banned people to enter the downtown to go to work or to keep a medical appointment.

Also Tuesday night, councilors gave final approval for strengthening Ashland's ban on camping on public property — without including prohibited camping as an exclusion zone offense.

Councilors eliminated the need for the city to prove in Ashland Municipal Court that the purpose of occupying a site was for temporary living.

Instead, a prohibited camping citation will stand up in court if the city can show the person was taking up space in a way that precluded the use of the area by the general public.

The person also must have set down bedding, have cooking apparatus or have started a campfire outside designated picnic areas.

Residents who spoke against the change on Tuesday night said it will require police to make subjective, discriminatory decisions. Police would be likely to cite a homeless-looking person sitting on a blanket on a sidewalk, but not cite a well-dressed person on a blanket by the Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park, for example, residents said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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