Downtown Missoula Prepares for Sidewalk Anarchy

by lizard

The debate surrounding sitting on the sidewalk in the Central Business District of Downtown Missoula hit a new low when Dan Cederberg described this problematic sitting as “gateway conduct” at yesterday’s Public Safety and Health committee meeting. A gateway to what? The aggressive solicitation that would STILL BE PROHIBITED if the amendments removing non-verbal solicitation and benign acts, like sitting, pass?

The attempt to keep Missoula from being sued by the ACLU will be taken up by City Council next Monday, March 3rd. I hope Caitlin Copple can make it this time, since she wasn’t at the committee meeting yesterday.

Emily Bentley was in attendance, and had this to say:

There is one main issue at hand. Should sitting on a public sidewalk be banned in all of the Central Business District or should it only be banned 10ft from the entrance to a business? The latter prevailed…for today. There were only 6 people in the committee meeting – myself, Jason, Jordan, Bryan, Jon, and Annelise. Caitlin was absent and many of the other Council members who have voiced support for the CBD ban in previous meetings are not on this committee. This issue will receive extensive debate and may be over turned on Monday evening. I do not support the full ban on sitting in the CBD. Although I agree there is an issue of public safety, I feel strongly that there is benign behavior that will also be made illegal. My toddler had a tantrum downtown last week. He sat down. I don’t want that to be illegal. I also sat down to breast feed him last summer. I don’t want that to be illegal either. I think the benign behavior is overlooked and people take notice of the disruptive behavior, giving the perception that there is only bad behavior. The 10ft ban on sitting is consistent with the 10ft ban on solicitation, which makes it easier for police to enforce. According to the BID, 10ft from businesses takes up about 1/3 of the CBD. The ACLU has grudgingly acknowledged that it is not de facto ban the way that the originally proposed 20ft was.

Emily’s toddler is not the only person throwing tantrums downtown (Missoulian):

“This process kind of feels like a shell game at times, as we’ve been at this for three years,” said Brent Campbell, president of the Missoula Downtown Association. “I’m not sure this is really the best way to create good statutes.”

A few years ago, the council adopted ordinances aimed at establishing some order downtown, but the city center remains messy, albeit popular. Workers still clean up human feces from shop fronts, and pedestrians run the gantlet of beggars asking or accosting them for money on the sidewalks.

What is the best way to create good statutes? How about some data? Brent Campbell is mistaken, it’s actually been 5 years since the original ordinances against aggressive solicitation and pedestrian interference were passed. So in that time, how many citations have been issued? And has the rate of citations increased over the years?

I suspect there may be a reason that kind of information isn’t a part of the conversation.

Bentley also introduced an amendment reintroducing footbridges into the ordinance language:

I made the motion to add the footbridges back into the ordinance. In my opinion when this was removed as part of the Mayors compromise, we threw the baby out with the bath water. The footbridges are the biggest problem in Missoula. There are significant concerns as people have been raped and murdered on them in recent years.

I don’t disagree, especially the footbridge over the tracks from downtown to the Northside. One way to address that is find a more appropriate spot for the Union Gospel Mission.

Speaking of relocation, I hope the MDA can try to remember there are good things happening for their downtown. By the end of the year, the Poverello Center will be moving to their new location on West Broadway, and the Salvation Army just announced their plans to relocate. I found this quote especially relevant:

The Salvation Army is the most recent of several social service providers to announce plans to move out of the downtown area, and Hamilton said it makes sense to relocate as the city tightens laws against panhandling and loitering.

Next I suggest transforming the Ox into a yogo studio and the Howard’s slummy apartments into condos. To protect all these great improvements our city leaders can create some sort of perimeter around downtown. The BID (business improvement district) can then hire more ambassadors to ensure only commerce-minded citizens enter the downtown core.

If only other Montana communities showed their compassion by not letting people sit on sidewalks, maybe that woman who died of exposure in Hamilton would still be alive. And that guy found dead of exposure in Butte.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the vote next Monday is going to go the way downtown businesses hope. There may be other options, though. This article may be 5 years old, but I think it still represents outside-the-box thinking that may be of interest to downtown businesses:

As 15-year-old Eddie Holder sprinted from his apartment for school one recent morning, he held his hand to one ear to block out a shrill, piercing noise.

The sound was coming from a wall-mounted box, but not everyone can hear it. The device, called the Mosquito, is audible only to teens and young adults and was installed outside the building to drive away loiterers.

If that doesn’t work, I have other ideas to help save downtown, like remote control sandwich board signs equipped with a cattle-prod-type device that would administer a non-lethal shock to non-commerce minded individuals misusing our public sidewalks.

You’re welcome, downtown businesses.

  1. d.g.

    And our Liberal-Icon-Owner of Butterfly Herbs is conveniently silent. Sicophants all! Even Scott Sproul would sell his sole(s)—and the damned symbolic homeless— for $45.00.

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