Robert Stone, originally of Cheyenne, Wyo., sits outside near a coffee shop in downtown Salem. The homeless Salem resident said he would "probably" be impacted by a proposed ban on sitting or lying down on public rights of way. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
For the first time, Salem City Council will publicly discuss a proposed law that, among other things, bans sitting or lying on sidewalks for most hours of the day.
Mayor Chuck Bennett on Monday called for a council work session, which allows the nine elected officials to meet in a quorum without having to vote. No public comment will be taken. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. at Salem Council Chambers.
Councilors need the meeting — a week before they are slated to vote for the proposal — to talk clearly about what it does and doesn’t do, Bennett said. A draft of the proposal was released two weeks ago.
“It’s more of a chance to clear the air on this stuff and make sure everybody’s on the same page — in terms of understanding (what the ordinance does). That doesn’t mean the same page how they will vote,” he told Salem Reporter.
Although they won’t vote on the proposal, the law does allow council to “direct staff to take certain actions.” City spokeswoman Kathy Ursprung said such actions could be making changes to the draft.
“Out of (the work session) may come some direction of what they want to do with the draft ordinance that they will be using for discussion purposes,” she said. “They haven’t discussed it with one another yet and what they’ve heard about it.”
The mayor’s decision to call the work session comes on the heels of reports recently that some members of Salem City Council are open to changing or removing some facets of the proposal, which is effectively a bundle of new city laws.
The Sidewalk and Public Space Ordinance — known informally as “sit-lie” — was first announced in July.
It would ban sitting or lying on sidewalks and other public rights-of-way from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It would also ban leaving personal property unattended on public property during those same hours. And it would ban tents and other structures from sidewalks at all hours.
Salem police would warn violators on first offense and could write a ticket for a second offense.
If those crimes occur within one of Salem’s crime prevention districts — also known as “exclusion zones” — a person could be banned from that area. A person who ignores the ban could be arrested for trespassing.
Salem has two such exclusion zones: north Salem and downtown. Numerous crimes can lead to a ban in those areas, from violent crimes to a minor violating curfew.
Some councilors want to see changes or else they won’t vote for it. Councilor Cara Kaser, whose ward encompasses the downtown area that is ground zero for much of the discussion, said she’d like to see the sit-lie facet changed.
“Out of the whole ordinance, that’s the piece that I’ve heard the most comments on,” she said.
At least one councilor who supports it, and would vote for it, said he is open to change because he doesn’t want to see a new city law passed without more support.
“You don’t ever want to see new rules (passed) with a one-vote margin,” said Councilor Chris Hoy. Hoy suggested removing the “exclusion zone” aspects of the ordinance to ensure a person isn’t arrested for trespassing.
Both councilors told Salem Reporter they supported the facet of the proposal that banned tents and other structures from being set up on public property.
The proposal emerged in July, announced by Kristin Retherford, who directs the city’s Urban Development Department, and Salem Police Department Chief Jerry Moore. They said the laws would help police curb behaviors that they say are hurting business owners and shoppers in downtown.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.