Portland Sidewalk Management Ordinance Rally and Hearing Re-Cap

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Lady with Sign at Rally against Sidewalk Management Proposal

Thursday at noon while most people were just going on their lunch break, about 40 people huddled at the corner of NW 6th and Davis in Old Town/Chinatown, passing out handwritten signs, balloons and noisemakers while the last of the morning’s rain sprinkled down. The signs had many phrases written on them, but the point of them all was a resounding “No!” to the proposed Sidewalk Management Ordinance that City officials have been tinkering over since October 2009 after last year’s Sit/Lie Ordinance was found unconstitutional.

Several staff members for Sisters of the Road, a homeless resource center and cafe, spoke regarding their rallying cause, “Sidewalks for Everyone,” their primary qualm with the new Sidewalk Management Ordinance being that it criminalizes homelessness and their inability to go anywhere else – that sidewalks are indeed multi-purpose paths for everyone’s use, whether they are sitting and resting, window shopping or commuting.

One notable speaker was Sister’s staff, Brenden P., who in his speech declared; “No solution has even been successful without music!” Following with a Portland-themed version of “This Land is My Land,” on the banjo where the crowd joined in with the chorus:

This city is your city, this city is my city;
From N Lombard to Milwaukie;
From Washington Park to Mount Tabor;
This city is made for you and me.

The cheering rally waves their signs and balloons with Sisters of the Road employee, Brenden P. plays banjo.

The procession, beginning at Sister’s, meandered through Old Town, making a stop at Transition Projects, Blanchet House and Central City Concern; all agencies aimed at ending homelessness in the city, before meandering across town to Pioneer Courthouse Square, ending at City Hall. During our walk, the mood was light and people were able to converse with each other between waving signs and shouting out rousing cheers, reminding citizens that we all share the sidewalks, and they are our shelter and our safe space.

At City Hall, the meeting began with an explanation of the Sidewalk Management Ordinance proposal down to every detail. There were almost 40 testimonies heard, and only two of them supporting the Sidewalk Management proposal. Included in the testimonies were very thought out speeches from community members, a representative from the ACLU, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition and a very entertaining 2-minute song disparaging the ordinance by our very own busking, bike-riding, mandolin-playing, Barry Joe Stull.

Given two-minutes, and my chance to speak, I had prepared the following testimony (including clarification in parenthesis):

My name is Halley W. and I work on-call with Transition Projects (acknowledging that I do have association with a homeless center), however 90% of my income comes from street performance, therefore I am here as a representative of a blossoming organization called PDX Busk in regards to Exception 9 or Section G-9 of the ordinance. (Which reads as an exception to the new ordinance: Performing music while complying with Street Musician Partnership Agreement.)

The Street Musician Partnership Agreement was developed and put into action in March 1994, signed by various officials under Mayor Vera Katz including Portland Police Bureau officers, Parks & Rec officials and Portland Business Alliance.

Over the last year I have been working with a Parks & Rec employee to find out who is upholding and maintaining the agreement. The only answer I’ve gotten was in September 2009 the PBA flat out told Parks & Rec that they have not been and will not issue the permits they agreed to in the Partnership for the foreseeable future.

So, if the Partnership is not in compliance by official and public offices, only loosely by street musicians that may or may not know of its existence and haphazardly by security and police as displayed by April 25th incident regarding a local celloist, does it even exist more than an orphaned, forgotten agreement dove-tailed into this ordinance. I believe if we are to create an ordinance we need an entire revamp, not only with the Partnership, but sidewalk businesses and cafe permitting, bike staples, newspaper stands, garbage cans, civilian and police cyclists on downtown sidewalks; thoroughly addressing all the points of city planning with regard to our Federal Constitutional rights to assembly and free speech on public right of ways. Thank you.”

Mayor Sam Adams immediately remarked that the Street Musician Partnership Agreement was indeed old and needed to be looked at. He seemed honestly concerned about this as being an overlooked and important part of Portland’s downtown environment. Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Portland Parks & Rec Department, was also concerned about the lack of cooperation and assistance I had received in my struggles as a street musician contacting public agencies and immediately put me in contact with his public advocate. Initial contact has been made with both his advocate and with Commissioner Fish’s office. You will be kept up-to-date on how this progresses.

Because of the overwhelming amount of testimony and somewhat obscure closing statements by the ordinance planners, the vote has been put off until Thursday, May 6th at 3:30 pm.

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