Thursday, March 5, 2020

Sit-Lie Could Cost City $30K to $75K a Month

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

Marion Square Park, just south of The ARCHES Project
Monday night, Council will decide just how much it's willing to pay to to secure a crucial fifth vote to enact sit-lie.  Right now, it's looking like the cost will be somewhere between about $30K and $75K per month.

Readers will recall that, at the last City Council meeting on February 24, Councilor Kaser, who last fall considered sit-lie a "non-starter",  moved to advance sit-lie to a first reading on March 9, without the provision that allows police to punish violations with exclusion from Crime Prevention Districts, and conditioned on the "availability of an indoor or outdoor day space protected from the elements that would be open to the public during the hours [the ban] would be in effect, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m."

Council passed Kaser's motion 7 - 1.  Councilor Lewis, who voted no and was on the phone, wanted sit-lie to move forward without conditions.  Mayor Bennett and Councilor Nanke, who also wanted to move sit-lie forward, voted yes because they understood that Kaser's conditions were not binding.  Councilor Hoy also wanted sit-lie to move forward, but supported the removal of the exclusion provision (he had asked Council to remove the exclusion provision from the camping ban as well).  See "Power to Punish: why Salem police don't need more discretion."  Councilors Ausec, Leung and Nordyke went along -- even though they had opposed sit lie previously -- and Councilor Andersen was absent. 

The staff report for Monday's meeting lays out two strategies for meeting Kaser's condition that shelter be available during the hours the ban is effective.  On the low end, the City can erect a large tent ($5K) in Marion Square Park to warehouse those forced to move from the downtown streets and provide them toilets ($5K) and security ($19K).  On the high end, the City can expand the hours of The ARCHES Project to include evenings and weekends ($74K for the full monty, less for fewer hours).

It's doubtful that there will be five councilors willing to pay $30K/month for a tent warehouse, much less more for expanded hours at ARCHES.  So, the question for Monday night is going to be whether Kaser will stick to her condition that there be some form of shelter available during the hours of the ban, especially with Bennett, Nanke, Lewis and Hoy having previously signaled a readiness to pass sit-lie without the condition of shelter. The pressure on Kaser will be strong to drop it.  Or, Andersen or Nordyke might be willing to provide that fifth vote, who knows. 

It's worth noting that Salem police have consistently advised against allowing organized camping, both supervised and unsupervised.  If there's a difference here, it's that the large tent in Marion Square Park wouldn't be available 24/7.  The strategy would be: every evening, security guards/police close Marion Square Park and force anyone staying under the big tent to "move along", then every morning, police tell anyone sitting or lying on the sidewalks downtown there's a big tent in Marion Square Park where they can rest, but they can't do it on the sidewalks.

We asked Jimmy Jones whether the City had consulted him on the tent proposal, and how locating  the tent in Marion Square Park might affect ARCHES.  He replied by email:

Councilors consulted me on original tent plan [the short-lived plan to designate City-owned property for organized camping].  I thought that was dead.  Found out otherwise today as I assumed we were still working toward expansion.
It will affect us [The ARCHES Project].  I cannot hazard a guess as to how because I don’t know what the design of it will be.  Managed or unmanaged?  Restrooms? Food? What happens to possessions? Will people sleep in the park?   Lots of unknowns.  Day or night it will essentially be a city run camp and that is an undiscovered country of great unknowns.

The staff report is bare bones to say the least, suggesting staff don't really expect Council to go for either shelter option.  It just recommends Council conduct the first reading.  The draft ordinance includes an emergency clause, which would make it effective immediately after the second reading, likely to be March 23.  

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