The Ashland City Council is scheduled to take up expanding its downtown business corridor which limits smoking and hanging out on the curb at Tuesday’s regular business meeting. The council will also consider adding exclusions bar the use parking spaces for anything but cars, so people don't sit where they block the spots.
The expansion would affect the area at Lithia Way and Pioneer where a some have complained that homeless people are rowdy, use poor language and hang out smoking in the area and taking up parking spaces. The ordinances state that these “behaviors” could draw a citation.
The city of Ashland outlawed sitting on curbs too close to the edge and blocking walkers, smoking downtown, panhandling near outdoor cafes and automatic teller machines last year. As a result of complaints they are now considering expanding that zone to Lithia Way.
“It’s really hard to live a life where existing is against the law,” said Kevin Witt, who identifies as homeless and often uses the area at Lithia Way and Pioneer to relax with his dog. “Not all homeless people need to be categorized the same way.”
The council has stated that it is not homelessness which is the problem, but certain behaviors which some residents and visitors say make the community less appealing for tourists and could disproportionately affect businesses who rely on tourists. Others have argued that the restrictions affect primarily homeless people who have nowhere to smoke or congregate other than public spots since they have no private space.
“We don’t have any place to be," said Ashli Rose, a homeless resident. "We don’t have any place to hang out now and this will make it even fewer places,”
City councilors will also hear the results of the Downtown Business Survey they conducted where business owners and employees were asked how the restrictions on certain downtown behaviors are working.
The survey states that the view of efficacy is a mixed bag. The response rate was 78 percent. They got back 146 questionnaires out of 187 sent out.
The survey asked businesses to compare summer 2015 to the summer 2016.
The report says respondents observed a lessening of smoking downtown. “Overall, more than half of businesses reported a decrease in smoking and vaping on sidewalks in the outside perimeter of their downtown businesses from the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016,” it says.
Of the restaurants with sidewalk tables that responded to the survey, 71 percent reported no change in the incidents of diners being solicited for money from summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016.
Almost half reported no change in the obstruction of sidewalks in the front or side of their downtown businesses, while one-quarter saw a reduction.
Four banks were asked whether they had seen a change in customers being solicited for money while using the ATM. Two of the banks reported that there was no change; ATM customers continued to be solicited. One of the banks reported ATM solicitations were never a problem. The fourth bank reported that 2016 was the worst year yet for ATM solicitations.
Overall, 20 businesses said the ordinances helped, 13 reported no change, 29 said people just shifted to other parts of town, and 21 businesses said it’s become worse since the ordinances were passed.
Ten of the businesses surveyed, according to the report, claim that panhandling, smoking and loitering are “bad for tourism.”
However, six said the ordinances were actually bad for business. “I absolutely despise these laws because I own a bar and I’m trying to run a business, if anything, I think the new laws have been a drag on all activity downtown,” wrote one respondent who, like all others, were allowed to answer anonymously.
Councilors will hear the full report at their Tuesday meeting. The report makes no recommendations but advises that the ordinances and issues may require a greater level of discussion.
The council meets Tuesday, April 4, at 1175 East Main St., Ashland at 7 p.m. Proceedings are cablecast live on Channel 9 (or 180) and streamed online at rvtv.sou.edu.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.