Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Monday, November 02, 2015

                                             MINUTES FOR THE STUDY SESSION
Monday, November 2, 2015
Council Chambers
1175 E Main Street
Mayor Stromberg called the meeting to order at 5:31 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers. 
Councilor Voisin, Morris, Lemhouse, Seffinger, Rosenthal, and Marsh were present.  
1.   Public Input  
Cindy Bernard Mclaughlin/1300 Tolman Creek Road/Wanted to remove the labels for transients and look at the behavior instead. People that were causing the issues were doing it purposely and it made the town unsafe and unwelcome.  They accessed the Resource Center and took limited resources from local citizens in need. 
Sandra Slattery/110 East Main/Appreciated the Listening Session October 28, 2015 and encouraged the City to move forward on solutions to create a safe environment and take action. 
Jon Lange/2345 Blue Sky Lane/Lived in Ashland since 1980 and observed this current era was worse than anything he had ever seen.  This was criminal, immoral, and uncivilized behavior luxuriating in the community.  He urged elected officials take a leadership role.
Marie Donovan/2345 Blue Sky Lane/Explained she was the Ashland Chamber of Commerce Board President.  She attended the October 28, 2015 Listening Session and was overwhelmed with texts and emails from people not comfortable attending the session or speaking publicly.  This was a message for elected officials to act on safety and quality of life.
Trina Sanford/1425 Green Meadows Way/Shared her experience growing up in Ashland and how her children were not allowed to do any of those things because she felt the area was unsafe.  She went on to describe several disturbing encounters she had with transients on her personal and business properties.
Ellen Campbell/120 Gresham Street/Agreed with all the speakers.  She had not realized the situation was that bad.  People needed to support the police, the current laws, and encourage them to enforce those laws.  It felt discriminatory because she was law abiding and others were not.
Susan Grace/1024 Clear Creek Avenue/The City of Boulder Colorado had a similar situation and she explained how they enforced laws already in effect that actually pushed the travelers out of town.  She went on to share how Utah reduced homelessness 91% since 2004. She submitted documents into the record further explaining what steps the City of Boulder and Utah took.
Louise Engorn/345 Coventry Place/Noted the huge difference in livability over the past twelve years due to the rude behavior and actions of people travelling through town.
Pam Hammond Morris/642 Vansant Street/Read from a letter her daughter wrote regarding the threatening behavior she and co-workers received from travelers and transients. 
2.         Look Ahead review
City Administrator Dave Kanner reviewed items on the Look Ahead.
3.   Discussion of downtown behavior issues and additional approaches  
Councilor Seffinger noted the increase in aggressive behavior from people and dogs in the downtown.  She wanted Council to consider changes to the Ashland Municipal Code (AMC) that would provide educate and inform the public on panhandling, enhance law enforcement, and provide a uniform presence downtown.
City Attorney Dave Lohman explained the table in the council packet was a rough draft for employees in the front office to respond to citizens who commented on the behavior occurring outside City Hall.  Police Chief Tighe O’Meara reviewed the table, explained what worked well and how the Police Department strived for compliance before issuing citations.  The AMC evolved over time and new circumstances resulted in new code. 
Calls for service for disorderly type behavior in the downtown area declined from 310 in 2012 to 199 during 2014.  To date for 2015 the Police Department received 268 calls for service.  The department had 721 cases pulled in the downtown area for 2012 that increased to 751 in 2013, 688 for 2014, and 719 to date for 2015.  Mr. Lohman added the number of cases that went to Municipal Court in May 2015 was 35 and had doubled for October.
Councilor Seffinger shared a recent experience where a man threatened her life.  She asked for clarification on freedom of speech and threatening behavior.  Staff explained unless there was a reasonable fear of physical harm or an eminent threat present, it was freedom of speech.  The state of Oregon held a high threshold regarding freedom of speech.
Chief O’Meara addressed enforcement.  If someone threw away his or her citation, it went to collections with no further ramifications.  The Police Department worked with the City Attorney’s office to identify these people, issued warrants for persistent failure to appear, and was able to get some sanctions against chronic offenders.  City law did not have a tremendous impact to mitigate the behavior of travelers.  It did give the police an opportunity to interact with them and they often found major felony warrant arrests.
Operationally, the Police Department was down eight people creating a lot of overtime and employee burnout.  It would potentially take until early 2017 to train and ramp up new officers.  Staff was looking into bolstering the Cadet Program.  Currently the Police Department was paying 27 employees.   Chief O’Meara explained the difference between operationally down and positions not filled.
City Administrator Dave Kanner explained the City could fund the increase in Police staff by cutting something in the budget or identifying a new revenue source.  If Council wanted to pursue increased uniform presence downtown, the City may need to look at a uniformed presence that was not a police officer.  A couple cities had an Ambassador Program typically hired by a business association that wore uniforms and patrolled the downtown area.  They provided information, monitored activity, and contacted the police if necessary.  They did not intervene with a crime in progress.
Chief O’Meara noted the reserve program was not in effect at this time.  Using a zero tolerance tactic would produce a significant improvement but would not work well in Ashland.  Mr. Lohman noted more laws were not necessarily the answer and reviewed two documents regarding Public Misbehavior Remedies and Public Misbehavior Cases and submitted them into the record.  He further explained the persistent violator and failure to appear code expelled offenders from a specific area for three to six months in lieu of sending them to jail.  Alternately, the City could rent Jackson County Jail space.  Chief O’Meara further explained the process for renting beds at Jackson County Jail.
Jackson County Mental Health Services were working on expanding services for the indigent and planned on having 9-12 mental health people in the area.
Council directed staff to bring back information on the following for future consideration:
  • Having a Youth Outreach worker in the downtown, include pros and cons
  • Mental health services
  • Resource allocation on how police officers are allocated
  • Information on ways to increase public education and enforcement regarding the prohibition and use of smoking pot and open containers - include signage
  • Strict enforcement of alcohol and smoking laws, downtown and elsewhere
  • Providing police or uniform presence for 2016
  • Having a general outreach person  
  • Safety net services
  • Proposal on education that  included a roll out, options for funding and partnering with businesses or the community like the Peace Commission and the Chamber of Commerce
  • Draft a panhandling ordinance targeting aggressive panhandling that would pass Oregon Court Review
  • Information on the Ambassador Program or similar programs
  • Create a strict enforcement list that included existing laws and regulations where strict enforcement might help like marijuana and alcohol use
  • Seasonal downtown staffing options and associated costs
  • Research jail space options and include operational mechanics and costs
  • Look into using a Downtown Streets or a Code of Behavior approach to get people out of homelessness – research the program the City of Palo Alto used and include work programs like street and creeks cleaning
4.   Discussion of downtown smoking ban
Councilor Seffinger explained outdoor smoke within 25 feet was as bad as second hand smoke indoors in some situations.  Another major cause of environmental problems with water was cigarette butts.  Cigarette butts were harmful to pets and wildlife as well.  Oregon state law prohibited smoking within ten feet of a door, window, or exhaust system.  City Attorney Dave Lohman added the City could choose by ordinance to opt in for the state law.  City Administrator Dave Kanner clarified the ten feet was not binding.  The property owner, not a criminal code, enforced it.
Council expressed concern on the need to notify the public and business community for input.  Other comments suggested extending the ban citywide and including a ban on vapor products as well. 
Council directed staff to research a citywide smoking limitation with opportunities for employee smoking areas.
Meeting adjourned at 7:34 p.m.
Dana Smith
Assistant to the City Recorder

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