Redding City Council members sat up and took notice Tuesday night when speaker after speaker told them to take a seat when it comes to pursuing a sit-lie ordinance that would make it illegal to sit or lie on public sidewalks.
“What part of freedom is not understood with this?” asked Joseph Greydanus. “Liberty is not only for the well-off,” he added to a spattering of applause from a handful of homeless advocates. About a dozen of those in attendance held a rally at the intersection of Civic Center Drive and Cypress Avenue to rally opposition to the ordinance.
“How dare you single out the weak and desperate” he implored, his voice rising to such an extent that Mayor Rick Bosetti felt compelled to ask Greydanus to lower the volume. “You’re getting pretty wound up,” Bosetti cautioned, shortly before Greydanus left the dais after calling the proposed ordinance “a crime against humanity.”
Councilwoman Missy McArthur said she brought the sit-lie ordinance to the council at the behest of the Redding Merchants Crime Watch, the committee of merchants and business owners who are concerned the growing number of panhandlers and loiterers in Redding is turning away customers and tarnishing the city’s image.
“I said I’d bring it forth because the merchants are for it, and then I hear it may be unenforceable. I don’t have a dog in this fight but I want to hear what the community has to say,” McArthur said.
McArthur added that she is eager to address the establishment of a day center for the homeless. Councilwoman Francie Sullivan added her support to the day center concept while also emphasizing that the city lacks the staff and money to serve as the lead agency.
Michael Mojarro, CEO of Living Hope Compassion Ministry, found it ironic the council would mention a day center while considering a sit-lie ordinance. Given the struggles he faced in receiving city permission to expand his ministry’s center in the Parkview neighborhood, Mojarro said any council discussion of a new homeless center was “just lip service.”
While admitting the sit-lie ordinance and Redding’s homeless population in general are polarizing subjects, Redding businessman and developer Brent Weaver said he liked the idea of supporting nonprofits like Living Hope Compassion Ministry and called for “a healthy dialogue.”
Weaver, who has developed three properties in downtown Redding, including a California Street project that is now home to some ex-addicts and formerly homeless people, said the ordinance alone is not enough to deal with the “ever increasing” panhandling in the city.
The Rev. Ann Corrin added her support for a day center but said it needs to be supported by a broad coalition, including the faith community, and can’t be connected to a religious organization.
Pastor Dave Honey, who has spent 16 years working at the Good News Rescue Mission, called the proposed ordinance “more of a band-aid than a solution” and noted that most of those cited under the ordinance would not be able to pay their fines.
City Attorney Rick Duvernay said sit-lie ordinances, which have been adopted in San Francisco and Palo Alto (and is under consideration in Chico), are controversial wherever they’re proposed. He added the city already has laws in place that prohibit obstructing traffic.
Despite receiving emails that ran 2-to-1 in favor of the ordinance, McArthur said public comments, combined with the opinions from Duvernay and Police Chief Robert Paoletti, had her “leaning toward this not being a good idea.”
After spending a good chunk of the last three months in South City Park to spearhead improvements to Tiger Field (home of the Colt 45s, the summer-league baseball team for college players that Bosetti coaches), the mayor joined his council colleagues in withholding support for the ordinance. “It is going to take a community effort,” Bosetti said.
A motion to shelve the sit-lie ordinance was passed with a unanimous vote.
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.