Tuesday, October 6, 2009

City passes limited sidewalk ban

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2009 at 3:15 PM

The Missoula City Council Monday night approved an ordinance that prohibits people from sitting, lying or sleeping on a sidewalk within 12 feet of a building entrance.

The law takes effect 30 days from Monday’s 8-4 vote. Police will use the month to give sidewalk dwellers a heads up, said Police Chief Mark Muir during Monday’s meeting.

“I anticipate there will be a steep learning curve,” Muir said.

The council acted at the urging of downtown business owners who say an increasing homeless presence is frightening shoppers away.

In multiple meetings this summer, city representatives heard concerns from people like J. Elaine’s Boutique owner Kim Klages-Johns, who told council Monday night that she regularly spends her mornings cleaning up after downtown denizens.

On a recent stroll downtown she counted 18 people sleeping or lying on the sidewalk, she said. “That’s not right. That’s not the way it should be.”

While it’s clear from complaints there’s a problem, Councilman Dave Strohmaier said it’s been tough to zero in on one way to curb undesirable behavior that comes when people camp on sidewalks, including public urination, drug use and littering.

“It quickly became apparent there’s no silver bullet,” he said.

But because it’s tough for downtown restaurateurs and retailers to compete with the relatively antiseptic environments provided shoppers on Reserve Street and in Southgate Mall, Councilman John Hendrickson asked his colleagues to pass an ordinance with sharper teeth.

After committee tweaking last week, the “pedestrian interference ordinance,” as it’s called, was narrowed to ban sleeping or lying within 12 feet of a building entrance, rather than an outright ban on all city sidewalks.

“I think what we’re doing is counterproductive to downtown,” Hendrickson said of the law’s revised focus. “You’re not paying attention to [business owners]. But that’s not unusual.”

Meanwhile, council members Bob Jaffe and Stacy Rye asserted everyone owns city sidewalks, regardless of their socio-economic status.

“The public right of way belongs to everybody. Not just people with money in their pockets,” Rye said.

The measure passed 8-4, with Dick Haines, Lyn Hellegaard, John Hendrickson and Renee Mitchell voting against it.

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