Chico rejects ordinance criminalizing sitting on sidewalks

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 9:01 am

Chico City Council members have rejected a new ordinance that would have criminalized sitting or lying on the sidewalks of a specified Chico downtown area.

While Chico police called the proposed ordinance a tool to address unwanted behaviors that restrict commerce in the downtown area, opponents of the ordinance said it would unfairly target the homeless and might contribute to an inability for those individuals to recover from their present situation.

The council last week rejected the proposal, which is commonly referred to as the "sit-lie" or "move along" ordinance.

"I don't believe that ordinances that criminalize what are considered acts of living are of any benefit," said Councilwoman Tami Ritter. "I think that a sit-lie ordinance has more to do with targeting a certain segment of people who don't have homes than it is about truly addressing the root causes of why there are so many people living on our streets."

Under the ordinance, which would have been in effect during general business hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., lying or sitting on the sidewalk would have been an infraction, punishable by a $100, $200 or $300 fine for the first, second and third offense committed in a one-year period. Authorities would have had to warn an individual found in violation of the ordinance before issuing a citation.

Councilman Sean Morgan, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said it was intended to target unwanted behaviors, not particular subgroups of individuals.

"We have an unfair amount of anti-social behavior going on, and by that, I mean people who are choosing to lie down in the middle of the sidewalk, lean against the building with their feet out and their backpacks out and their dog, whatever the case may be," Morgan said. "And there's really no reason for them to do that."

Ritter agreed there is a problem with these behaviors in downtown Chico, saying the retail community is struggling with individuals who defecate and sleep outside doorways of stores and businesses. She said, however, that these actions tend to be performed outside of business hours when the ordinance would not be in effect. It is the underlying problem of homelessness that needs to be addressed, Ritter said.

The council voted to hold a work session with groups with stakes in this, including including the Chico Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Chico Business Association and the Greater Chico Homeless Task Force. The group will discuss how to proceed now that the ordinance proposal has been killed.

Call The Bee's Kurt Chirbas, (916) 321-1030.

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