Smoking, solicitation bans on Ashland City Council agenda Tuesday

Regulating downtown Ashland is on the to-do list for the Ashland City Council this Tuesday as it considers banning smoking downtown, regulating panhandling and people gathering and blocking sidewalks.

Aggressive panhandling — or, as the ordinance terms it, "intrusive solicitation" — is defined by the city of Ashland as approaching people at ATMs and outdoor cafes. The proposal originally had planned to ban asking for money from people in cars on streets but the council backed off that, feeling it’s not really an issue in Ashland. The council reworked the ordinance and approved it preliminarily. It will be voted on again Tuesday for final passage.

The council ran out of time due to a large turn out for public hearings in the last meeting to take up the regulation of blocking entrances and exits of buildings accessible to the public downtown. There have been several public hearings on the issue. Many have testified they feel the rules disproportionately affect the homeless and traveling population and are thinly veiled to discourage them from congregating downtown.

Business people have testified that loitering by the entrances to their businesses affects the numbers of people willing to come into their shops. A representative from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival read a letter into the record alleging a former patron stated she will no longer come to Ashland because she “does not want to walk the gauntlet” downtown.

Generally, “downtown behavior” has been the discussion point as the city of Ashland says complaints have been coming in from those bothered by being downtown and asked for money. The ordinances are aimed at curtailing behavior that tourists and business owners say is objectionable and discourages business. 

In addition, a proposal originally suggested by Councilor Stefani Seffinger to ban smoking downtown will be on the agenda. She introduced the proposed ordinance saying the smoke can get thick and make it difficult for people who suffer from breathing difficulty. She also spoke to evidence which suggests the presence of smokers encourages others, particularly young people, to light up. The precedence to ban smoking outdoors and in parks has been established in many cities around the country based on concerns about harm from outdoor smoking. Councilor Mike Morris has said that while he’ll consider the ordinance, he does not want to make being downtown too restrictive. Councilor Carol Voisin echoed the sentiment, saying “hot dogs kill people every year. Do we want to limit them too?”

The science behind secondhand smoke in outdoor areas is inconclusive. The California Air Quality Board commissioned studies which indicate fencing, close quarters and air direction play key factors in whether or not banning outdoor smoking is relevant.

The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Ashland City Council Chambers at 1175 East Main St. Meetings are broadcast live on channel 9, or on Charter Cable Channel 180.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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