The Sweet Home City Council is requesting more information before moving forward with an enhanced enforcement zone in its Main Street commercial zone.
The proposed enforcement zone would run from Fourth to 22nd avenues along Main Street and bar people who have received three citations from entering the space. Citations, Police Chief Jeff Lynn said, could range from public urination to consuming alcohol in public to causing a disturbance. Once barred, if the individual is found within the exclusion area, he or she would face a misdemeanor charge.
“This is for the person who repeatedly shoplifts from Safeway or who is drunk in public,” City Manager Ray Towry said at the council's Tuesday meeting. “This is an intent to help our downtown businesses succeed.”
The board was divided, however, on the intent of the ordinance, with some members questioning whether homeless people would be most affected.
“People who are vagrants get a lot of these fines and they have no way to pay,” said board member Lisa Gourley. “We’re talking about stopping someone from being able to go get a meal when they don’t have a house and increasing that fine debt. I don’t know people sleeping on the street either but increasing fines on those people might not be the best option and it’s certainly not our best moment.”
Towry reminded that board that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities could not cite individuals for sleeping on the street if the city did not have an alternative location such as a homeless shelter.
“The court made it clear,” he said. “Homelessness isn’t a crime.”
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Resident Bob Dalton said he read the ordinance several times before coming to speak before the board.
“If the ordinance is targeted to a specific group of people, I think you should back up and think about it,” he said. “If really what you’re saying it’s the homeless people, then say it’s the homeless people. Don’t blow smoke over it.”
Local business owner Paula Newman told the board that she had issues with individuals congregating in front of her business in Lebanon. Once, a man hopped the fence around the patio of her restaurant and began eating food left on patrons’ plates.
“I learned what a drug deal looked like and it’s the saddest thing ever,” she said. “Some of those people were veterans with mental illnesses … the people with mental illness, I learned not to approach them because it didn’t matter how loving I was, it didn’t go well.”
She said after Lebanon passed an ordinance prohibiting panhandling in front of the shopping center in which her business was located, the issue went away.
Mayor Greg Mahler asked if the enforcement area could be extended, citing The Point restaurant and businesses in the Foster area that supported the summer season at the lake.
Towry said city staff would bring the issue back before the council in the future.