Archive for December 17th, 2013

By JC

not-in-my-town

In a stunning vote of 7-3, Missoula’s City Council amended Missoula Municipal Code Title 9, entitled “Public Peace, Morals and Welfare,” Chapter 9.34 entitled “Pedestrian Interference”. The amendment included the following definition of “sit”:

H. “Sit” means to be in a position in which your bottom is resting on a chair, the ground, etc. with your back upright.

The Council then applied the new definition of “sitting” to the following activities:

A. It is unlawful for any person to sit, lie or sleep on a sidewalk within twenty (20)  feet of an entrance to a building, or to sit, lie or sleep upon any street or alley, within the city limits.

B. It is unlawful for any person to sit, lie or sleep on a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed upon a public sidewalk during the hours between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm in the Downtown Business Improvement District of Missoula;

While the Council did make exceptions for certain things like medical emergencies and when they “authorize” protesters to exercise first amendment rights (how nice of them!), and permitting restaurants that want to expand their occupancy numbers by allowing sidewalk seating, it appears that the baby stroller lobby didn’t have enough clout to grant them an exemption to the new ordinance.

But fear not, babes sitting with their “bottoms” resting on a chair with wheels (or will strollers be grandfathered in under a disability provision to use a “wheelchair”?), you are in good company with Missoula’s finest of homeless citizens. You have been added to the list of obstructionists getting in the way of “upstanding” citizens utilizing their lawful right to walk the sidewalks of Missoula unimpeded by strollers.

Cyclists, be aware that your sitting on the seat of your bicycle while on a sidewalk may be interpreted as a violation of this ordinance, too. Let’s see how the local police determine to proceed with that apparent violation.

It will be interesting to see if Missoula’s men in blue understand all citizens’ rights to Equal Protection under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by fairly implementing the law. If we can get enough baby strollers ticketed, maybe the City can escape the inevitable charges of selective enforcement, and violating homeless peoples’ civil rights to occupy public space. Or for violating homeless peoples’ rights under the 8th Amendment to sleeping on the streets and sidewalks of Missoula.

Welcome to the expansion of the nanny state in Missoula. Outraged? Here’s a good place to start…

Fear

by lizard

After finally getting some sleep last night (legally, inside my home) I’ve tried to remind myself that it’s counterproductive to hold on to anger.

In his comments to city council, Dan Cederberg tried to put the expansion of the panhandling ordinance and the ban on sitting/sleeping/lying into a broader context, explaining that these ordinances were merely one part of a three-part approach to addressing the negative behavior businesses believe is hurting their bottom line by keeping shoppers from coming downtown.

The ordinances are the consequence piece, and the other two pieces are compassion and education. The compassion piece includes the services designed to help people and the donors who keep those services afloat. When Caitlin Copple warned of “compassion fatigue” if these ordinances didn’t pass, service providers who can’t afford to offend donors knew exactly what she meant.

Instead of being pissed off I’m trying to understand what motivates the downtown business community to use local government and tax-supported services, like the police, to insulate their investments from the societal problems of addiction and mental illness.

The answer, I think, is fear—but not fear of the people these ordinances are designed to impact. The real fear is economic uncertainty.

Here is where I think everyone involved in this process could use a little more education about why people don’t have as much discretionary money in their pockets to spend.

Michael Whitney has another great article worth reading, titled Did Someone Say “Crash”?, where he takes a critical look at why net investment in America is down. I think he summarizes the situation pretty succinctly:

Bottom line: Net investment is down because there’s no demand. And there’s no demand because unemployment is high, wages are flat, incomes are falling, and households are still digging out from the Crash of ’08. At the same time, the US Congress and Team Obama continue to slash public spending wherever possible which is further dampening activity and perpetuating the low-growth, weak demand, perma-slump.

So, tell me: Why would a businessman invest in an economy where people are too broke to buy his products? He’d be better off issuing dividends to his shareholders or buying back shares in his own company to push stock prices higher.

The ordinances make perfect sense when you keep in mind most people have yet to recover from the global financial crisis that burst with the housing bubble 5 years ago. That economic fear heightens concern over anything that might detract from businesses making money downtown, like scary homeless people and a deficit of sandwich board signs.

So as we talk about consequences for homeless people that offend us by begging for money and acting inappropriately, maybe we should also be talking about the consequences of denying medicaid for poor Montanans and the consequences of peddling alcohol as the drug of choice instead of much less-harmful substances, like cannabis.

Or we could talk about the consequence of failing to hold Wall Street accountable for the widespread economic damage their reckless greed has had on a majority of Americans.

Those would be much more productive conversations to have. The conversation last night was just sad because it was so incredibly misguided.

by lizard

The last Missoula City Council meeting of 2013 was a 5 hour marathon that, were I carrying a gun, I may have been tempted to shoot myself in the head to end the misery.

What happened? Well, some very important things, like the passage of an urgency ordinance regarding sandwich board signs.

Businesses, for a trial period of 90 days, will be allowed to have 2 sandwich board signs instead of one, and the poor, non-Higgins located businesses will finally be able to entice shoppers to their stores by placing sandwich board signs in a location not directly in front of their stores, which is currently prohibited by this unfair regulation.

What else? A conditional use permit was passed for an exciting new micro-distillery on Main and Pattee. I know what you’re thinking. Downtown Missoula doesn’t have enough places that sells booze, so this will be a welcome addition to the diverse composition of downtown.

Next, or maybe first (I’m writing this directly after, so am a bit loopy) the people who want to spend their own money to light up our bridges are back with a new proposal. Apparently their first proposal was bonkers, with dancing lights (according to Jon Wilkins) or some other kind of light-associated action, like color themes for Griz games. From what I gathered, they wanted the bridges to do this:

Voicing his opposition to any escalation of light, good old Ross Best made an impassioned appeal about rivers and moons and being able to gaze at the scenic majesty of our fair town. In looking at my totally not-crazed notes, I see Dick Haines said something about a dark, snowy night. It was pure poetry, but those damn light pollutionists are going to screw it up with their bridge light bullshit! I think the Missoulian is breaking this news as I write this.

At some point there were also reports about bike ambassadors biking around talking about biking to anyone who would listen, and some budget stuff flubbed by the staff person giving the report, because her first comment was a correction of a miscalculation, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

But really the main reason our city council chambers was packed tonight was a chance to comment on the Russell bridge project. This has been an issue, according to the public comments, that’s been going on for something like 14 years. Alternative transportation folks were, of course, well represented, and a lot of concern about the scope and speed of the project was communicated. The comments dragged on and on.

I think it was at that point I scribbled fucking fucky fuck in my notepad.

The last item of business before council adjourned for the year (and a new council takes its place) was a vote on enhancements to the language of the aggressive solicitation ordinance and the pedestrian interference ordinance. When these ordinances were first being proposed in 2009, JC wrote posts like this one taking a critical look at the potential impacts.

I guess four years of these ordinances on the books haven’t produced the outcomes downtown businesses were hoping for, so the changes aim to streamline the footage distances for AGGRESSIVE SOLICITATION and PEDESTRIAN INTERFERENCE to a uniform 20 feet. Also, no sitting, sleeping, or lying down on sidewalks, alleys, tunnels or walking bridges between the hours of 6am-11pm.

Unless it’s a parade, or some other legitimate reason for non-homeless people to engage in the behavior specifically prohibited.

Public comment was mostly supportive of amending the language of these ordinances. There was one comment from an employee of a downtown business that drastically deviated from the fear-mongering, so thank you Tom for sharing your perspective about growing up in Chicago where fear about behavior is just a little more justified than the horrors of downtown Missoula.

Oh, and he also called out City Council for being privileged white people, which made the torture of the previous 5 hours almost worth it.

In responding to the privileged white people comment, Caitlin Copple took the opportunity to point out people without penises experience the fear factor differently, which is a fair point. Dick Haines also talked a lot about the fear of his female constituents in his supportive comments for these amendments.

I wonder what Dick thinks about the equality ordinance, and the role of fear that was expressed during that fun fight for equality?

Back on topic, I appreciate the perspective of Anna Conley from Montana’s ACLU. She explained why falling back on the “Seattle-did-it” justification from our city attorney—that comparable ordinances upheld in other states will insulate these Missoula ordinance enhancements from court challenges—is NOT as solid as supporters of these enhancements would have you believe.

I also appreciate Jason Wiener stating that silence from key social service providers does not equal consent.

Speaking of consent, here is how the vote broke down:

Strohmaier: Yes
Wilkins: Yes
Childers: Yes
Marler: Yes
Jaffe: No
Hertz: Yes
Taft: No
Copple: Yes
Haines: Yes
Wiener: No

I don’t think anyone had an easy time deciding how to vote. Looking on the bright side, the difficulty of this vote could mean better things down the road.

Tonight, downtown businesses, you got more sandwich board signs and less homeless people. Please remember that when the need doesn’t go away and people on the front lines explain what must happen next, in terms of services.

Near the end of this marathon, before the final vote, councilors expressed their discomfort. One of ’em, I can’t recall who, acknowledged they didn’t know what to do, but they had to do something, and this was something.

And so it passed.




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