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Anchorage ordinance now makes it illegal to sit on downtown city sidewalks

Posted: November 24, 2011 - 1:12am

ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage Assembly has passed an ordinance making it illegal to sit on city sidewalks in downtown Anchorage beginning Dec. 22.

Mayor Dan Sullivan introduced an original version of the ordinance in July. His proposal came after a homeless man began sitting on a sidewalk street corner next to City Hall to draw attention to Sullivan’s position on the homeless and the dismantling of illegal campsites around the city.

The Anchorage Assembly this summer couldn’t get enough votes to allow for a closer examination of the proposed ordinance in committee, so most of the assembly members voted to do away with it altogether.

The ordinance passed Tuesday is stricter than what was originally proposed, but it allows for some exceptions to the sidewalk-sitting ban, such as medical emergencies, watching a parade or waiting for a bus, according to KTUU-TV.

John Martin, the homeless man who protested with a sit-in next to City Hall, appeared at Tuesday’s assembly meeting and spoke to city leaders.

“Apparently it’s OK to protest, as long as you don’t protest the mayor,” Martin said.

The law makes it illegal to sit or lie down on downtown sidewalks from 6 a.m. through midnight Monday through Thursday, and 6 a.m. through 2:30 a.m. the next morning on Friday and Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska said the times are too broad.

“The ordinance as it’s proposed would bar sidewalk sitting at 6 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday,” said Tom Stenson, an ACLU lawyer. “Anchorage is just not busy at a lot of the times that are in there.”

Sullivan backs the revisions, pointing to case law that has been upheld in other cities like Seattle and Portland.

“We oftentimes have events downtown,” said Sullivan. “We have marathons and other events downtown, and people are setting up and getting organized very early in the morning sometimes.”

The law also sets stricter rules for panhandling in Anchorage, banning it completely downtown, and in the rest of the municipality any time after sunset and before sunrise.

“I believe that it does just what it asks me to do,” Chugiak/Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr said before the vote. “I’m elected by the public to support the greater good.”

But East Anchorage Assemblyman Paul Honeman disagreed.

“This law won’t do a damn thing,” said Honeman, who is running for mayor in 2012.

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