Portland tries again to regulate panhandlers

PORTLAND — Mayor Sam Adams has unveiled the city's third try at regulating aggressive panhandlers downtown, setting the legal grounds for what he calls a comprehensive sidewalk management plan.

This attempt aims to deal with all public sidewalk users — including pedestrians, wheelchair users, those with dogs and people who have nowhere to go — by carving out a protected zone in "high pedestrian traffic areas."

"It's hard to legislate good will and common sense, but we're trying," Adams said.

he draft proposal calls for an 8-foot- or 6-foot-wide zone on public sidewalks downtown and in the Lloyd and Rose Quarter areas. The measurement would start at the edge of a storefront and go out from there. In these strips, people must be ready to move out of the way to accommodate others, especially those with disabilities.

In 2007, the City Council banned people from sitting or lying down on certain sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Last June, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled the ban unconstitutional, as did the Oregon Court of Appeals on a similar ban in 2005.

The 2007 ordinance also conflicted with a state disorderly conduct statute, the judge found. Asked if this latest rendering would survive a court challenge, Adams was cautious.

"I think it's important we be humble in answering the question of whether or not it will pass legal muster," he said.

The proposal calls for leashed dogs to stay within 2 feet of the handler. Waiting in line for goods is OK, as is asking for change. But belligerent panhandling would not be tolerated, and violators could face a maximum $250 fine.

The hours of enforcement are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, although blocking someone with a disability would never be allowed.

Brendan Phillips, a community organizer with Sisters of the Road, a longtime homeless advocacy group, said he loves that the mayor has recognized panhandling as a protected right.

But Phillips also has questions at this early stage. He worries about enforcement and training — who will cite violators and how.

"This ordinance at least starts speaking to behaviors that are inappropriate versus people's need to get change," Phillips said.

Adams said people could sit near the edge of a sidewalk, outside the sidewalk zone. They could even sit within the zone if they're able to move quickly — and that probably means no dogs, no gear, no baggage.

"That's really sort of the litmus test: If they can move immediately, they're OK," he said.

This is just one piece of an overall effort that has commissioners looking at different slices of sidewalk use as well as homelessness, he said.

City Commissioner Nick Fish, for example, is working to allow small camps on public property at night in areas away from businesses or homes.

And Adams still wants a program that would allow people to donate to a nonprofit rather than give money directly to panhandlers.

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