Real Sidewalk Clutter–Illegal Merchant Signage on Pacific Avenue

by Pat Colby and Robert Norse ( rnorse3 [at] )
Sunday Jun 29th, 2014 11:37 PM

Last September the City Council cut back already severely-limited public space on the sidewalk to even less. I estimate less than 2% of the original Pacific Avenue sidewalk is now available for sitting, sparechanging, performing with a cup, vending, and/or political tabling. In an attempt to justify this strangulation of space, Councilmember Pamela Comstock made a comment characterizing what she saw on the downtown sidewalks as “sidewalk clutter”. In response to this and to show the extent of selective enforcement of the sidewalk laws–favoring merchants and penalizing street people–Pat Colby created a video showing what she considered real clutter–commercial sidewalk sandwich board signs–all of which are illegal under the Municipal code (zoning ordinance section 24.12.320.3). Pat played her power point presentation last Tuesday (6-24) at City Council.

Colby’s presentation speaks for itself and can be found on line at .

City Council’s own “imbedded” video groupie Community TV also documented the presentation at , where it can be found 2 hours 28 minutes and 20 seconds into video accompanying the on-line archive.

I contacted Eric Marlatt, Principal City Planner, the week before the Council meeting. He advised me that ALL free-standing commercial signs (such as you find at regular intervals on Pacific Avenue and its sidestreets) are illegal–at least on Pacific Avenue. He also advised me that there had been no complaints or enforcement against these illegal signs for the last year.

In her presentation and at other points Pat has expressed concerns that the signs as well as the numerous sidewalk cafes that encroach upon the public sidewalk may burden disabled people and could be in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

I share with her another major concern that selective enforcement of the Downtown Ordinances against sitting, tabling, etc. downtown has been repeatedly used with a political impact (if not a political agenda) of driving away a class of people from the downtown area. Police harassment of poor people, performers, political activists, low-income travelers, and homeless folk downtown under the Downtown Ordinances escalated last year, though the departure of The Great Morgani, the colorful accordion performer, presaged a lengthy period ignoring people in “illegal spots”.

Such spots are any part of the ‘public’ sidewalk that is within 14′ of any building, street corner or intersection. kiosk, drinking fountain, public telephone, public bench,
public trash compactor, public trash can, information or directory/map sign, sculpture or artwork displayed on public property, ATM machine or other cash disbursal
machines, vending cart; or fence [See MC 5.43 at ]. This amounts to 98% of the sidewalk if you include the for-profit only sidewalk cafe encroachments and the space taken by the illegal sidewalk signs.

Whether this “benign neglect” was done to forestall protests, coax back performers, save tax payer money, or simply wait until the heat could be turned up later–is anyone’s guess. However virtually every performer, panhandler, tabler, etc. is situated “illegally” given the grandiose restrictions intended to give the police a blank check to “move along” anyone they want.

The amiable tolerance can and has been quickly withdrawn–as in the case of Kate Wenzell [See “Downtown Ordinances — A License to Harass Scarf Lady Kate Wenzell” at] I hope to be writing updates on Kate’s case soon.

The obvious double standard being used, allowing illegal sidewalk signs that stand there all day while human beings are required to move every hour is glaring and undeniable. She has done a significant public service in bringing this issue to public attention.

For the full “Deadly Downtown Ordinances” with scattered updates go to )–however to be complete you’ve got to download the more recent 1st Amendment-choking additions mentioned in the Comments sections.

For those hopeful of a “positive change” with the proposed “painted boxes” being prepared by Assistant to the Assistant City Manager Scott Collins, get ready for disappointment. Collins’ latest e-mail to me suggests there will be same amount of space as is currently “legal”. His exact words in the e-mail were: “Council’s intention is to have a similar amount of space available for performance and tabling as currently exists, simplifying the matter with clearly delineated space.”

This, of course amounts to 2% or less of the total sidewalk space. The 2% is an approximation that comes from having measured the spaces actually legal under the current law.

Scott Collins “map” of these spaces, which he presented to City Council last year is wildly inaccurate where he claims there are double the number of spaces that actually exist.

So far City Council member Posner and Vice-Mayor Lane have taken no public interest in the situation. Collins has also indicated he will not be soliciting or accepting public input on the location, number, and extent of the new “performance cages” as some fondly call the proposed painted boxes on the sidewalk–outside of which it will be illegal to busque, table, or vend (perhaps sit or sparechange).

Again, a tip of the hat to Pat Colby and the others who helped create the graphic presentation illustrating the City’s dirty double standard.