Assembly votes 9-1 to postpone sidewalk-sitting proposal

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night voted 9-1 to postpone indefinitely Mayor Dan Sullivan's proposal to restrict sitting on sidewalks and panhandling downtown.

That means to bring it back again, it would have to be introduced anew.

Chris Birch voted against the indefinite postponement, and Jennifer Johnston was absent.

Sullivan had asked the Assembly to postpone the proposal to a date in September to give his administration more time to work on it, and to take it to the city Public Safety Advisory Commission for review.

If that had happened, the same ordinance, with or without proposed changes, would have reappeared on the Assembly agenda in September.

But with Johnston not attending the meeting, the Assembly split 5-5 on postponing the sidewalk debate to September. So that action failed.

Assemblyman Dick Traini was one of those wanting to get rid of this version altogether. "This needs to go away," he said. "It's defective."

The Assembly still held a hearing Tuesday, and a dozen or so people spoke against the proposed ban on sidewalk sitting, from a woman who said she lived in Midtown to some who said they had been homeless.

Mary Morgan, who said she ended up homeless with two kids after a bad marriage, said she's "really opposed" to the sidewalk ordinance.

She talked about living on dry cereal and said her brother rescued her. "People get stuck in situations all the time," Morgan said.

Another young woman, Rebecca Shier, said she grew up homeless. She, too, doesn't think the Assembly should consider the proposed ordinance.

The idea of banning sitting on downtown sidewalks has been controversial from the start.

The mayor has said the idea for the restrictions arose in response to a situation in which a homeless man has been sitting or lying on sidewalks near City Hall for about a month to protest the city's policies on homelessness. The man, John Martin, is a registered sex offender.

City leaders realized Anchorage doesn't have any rules prohibiting sitting or lying on sidewalks.

The proposed law would ban sitting on sidewalks downtown with exceptions for things like bus stops, medical emergencies, parades or demonstrations that have special permits.

The proposal would also make blocking pedestrians in certain circumstances a crime and expand rules against panhandling by prohibiting it downtown or after dark.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

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