Faced with opposition, councilmembers tone down, postpone sit/lie ordinanceAbout two months ago, Colorado Springs City Council appeared to have a consensus in favor of a sit/lie ordinance - with a vote scheduled in late September - that could have resulted in stiff fines or jail time for violators in the downtown and Old Colorado City.
That scenario has changed.
Influenced by opponents at ensuing public meetings and legal questions from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), council
At one time the hope had been to have a law in place in time to help businesses during the Christmas season, but now no action is likely until 2016, according to Councilmember Tom Strand, who is one of the two council ramrods for the measure (along with Keith King).
“The mayor [John Suthers] kicked this off based on contacts with various constituents, mainly people who owned stores and members of the public who were uncomfortable going downtown,” Strand explained in a recent interview with the Westside Pioneer.
Strand said that he's been aware of similar problems in Old Colorado City. “Store owners have told me about people sleeping in doorways or on the streets,” he said. “I've seen them myself.”
In addition to making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks - forcing shoppers to walk around them - the law had also included a taboo on people sitting or lying in or on planters and flower beds. The latter applied mainly to the landscaping layout downtown at Pikes Peak and Tejon, Strand said.
In August, the City Attorney's Office expressed confidence that the proposed law's wording would withstand legal challenge, having been modeled after like ordinances in other cities.
But Strand, along with King, chose not to put that to the test when the ACLU started raising issues about constitutional rights.
Instead, the councilmembers decided to lessen the scope of the law - focusing mainly on sidewalk-blocking - and to reduce the penalties, which previously called for a maximum fine of $2,500 or up to six months in jail (because it had been seen as a public-safety issue). “People jumped on that and rightly so,” Strand said.
Under the latest concept, which is still a work in progress, violators are to be given warnings before getting tickets, and there's no potential jail time at all. “We're trying to make this as gentle and kind as possible,” Strand said.
He doesn't know how the full council will feel about the dialed-back version that's taking shape. Only Councilmember Jill Gaebler had argued outright against the original law at a work session in August. “I can't say it will be a 9-0 vote,” he said.
Part of the reality is that the citizen numbers in opposition have been overwhelming at the three public meetings on the issue (including a council-hosted “town hall”) since August. Many sought to paint the ordinance as anti-homeless, despite city arguments that the intent was to address behavior only. And the planter-seating denial was ridiculed.
Strand estimated the rough split at the meetings as 80-20 against. Even in private communications by phone or e-mail, Strand said the split was only slightly less pronounced - closer to 70-30 against. “I think most people who were happy with it [the originally proposed law] were silent about it,” he speculated.
Unchanged aspects of the proposed ordinance, at least to date, include a geographic definition of Old Colorado City (Colorado Avenue between 21st and 31st streets and Pikes Peak Avenue to Cucharras Street between 23rd and 28th) and specific hours when the law would apply (7 a.m.-10 p.m., extended to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Westside Pioneer article