Following enormous public resistance to the proposed sit-lie ban, City Council directed staff to change two of the most absurd provisions before the ordinance is voted on on March 7th. However, the amended ordinance still includes provisions that directly target unhoused people. Our community should not be passing laws that we know will be enforced unfairly!
Understanding the Sit-lie Ordinance
NOTE: This description was updated on March 1st, based on the newest draft ordinance, which can be viewed here: http://www.fcgov.com/downtownbehavior/files/draft-ordinance.pdf
If the proposed sit/lie ban became a law, the following activities would be prohibited.
- sitting, kneeling, or lying down on public sidewalks or plazas
- sitting, kneeling, or lying down on an “area not designed for sitting” in a transit facility, or on public property within 20 feet of a transit facility
- sitting or lying down in a public restroom, or within 10 feet of the entrance/exit to a restroom, except on a toilet or bench
- depositing unattended personal property on the sidewalk, in a plaza, on a bench, or in things like planters (except if we’re talking about bikes or cars)
- depositing unattended personal property in a public restroom, within 10 feet of the entrance to a restroom, in a transit facility, or on public property within 20 feet of a transit facility (except bikes & cars)
- depositing attended personal property on a sidewalk, if it’s more than “an amount that may reasonably be expected to be hand-carried by a single adult.” This appears to propose making it illegal to sit on a bench with your stuff in a wheeled cart/luggage beside you on the sidewalk.
- depositing attended personal property in a public restroom, within 10 feet of the entrance to a restroom, in a transit facility, or on public property within 20 feet of a transit facility
All of this applies to the Old Town area, same boundaries as the smoking ban. The restrictions concerning restrooms and transit facilities apply everywhere in Fort Collins.
There are some exceptions for medical emergencies, people with disabilities who use wheelchairs, vendors, customers of vendors, parade/festival goers, small children, and city employees.
Why We Don’t Want This Ordinance
This ordinance is highly vulnerable to discriminatory enforcement.
- The smoking ban, which covers the same geographical boundaries, has already been enforced in a wildly discriminatory manner (37 out of 43 tickets in 2016 were issued to people without housing, which is a deeply concerning pattern);
- sit-lie bans elsewhere are enforced almost entirely against marginalized groups, including people experiencing homelessness;
- during public outreach events, police officers have already described plans to enforce this ordinance selectively.
Our community should not pass laws that we know will be enforced in a discriminatory manner.
We all agree that aggressive behavior is not appreciated in Fort Collins (downtown or elsewhere). However, sitting is not an aggressive behavior. In fact, sitting and lying down are often perceived as more passive, and less threatening, than standing. Nothing in this ordinance addresses harassment or aggressive behavior.
Sitting on a sidewalk or in a plaza is not a harmful act. Downtown Fort Collins is a public space. It is designed to be shared – for instance, there are very wide sidewalks throughout most of Old Town, and areas set aside from the sidewalk that are clearly intended to invite people to sit and enjoy our vibrant downtown scene. Seeing people sit or rest on the ground may offend some sensibilities, as our community includes people who are uncomfortable seeing people resting, demonstrating, or panhandling in public. While we recognize that discomfort exists, removing people from sight is not an appropriate answer, nor in keeping with our community values.
Obstructing sidewalks, passageways, or entryways is clearly problematic, which is why we already have an ordinance addressing these behaviors. Same with harmful activities like littering or damaging public property. Debating ordinances that merely duplicate existing laws is not an effective use of City Council’s time and energies.
Many of the complaints staff and police are receiving are about behaviors that cannot be appropriately addressed via a criminal ordinance. For instance, business owners complaining that people are window-shopping instead of purchasing goods, people complaining about panhandling, or complaints about people sitting or lying in a manner that causes no hindrance to passage. Our City leadership must take care to not legitimize complaints that are motivated by prejudice or misunderstanding.
Moreover, there is no clear definition of when property becomes “unattended.” How long does a person have to step away from their belongings before they have committed a crime? Since a person cannot leave property unattended, nor bring heavy amounts of attended property into a bathroom, what realistic options for attending to personal needs does someone have?
Lastly, a section of the ordinance targets attended property. That is, belongings that are with their owner. This section has not been highlighted in materials to council or during public outreach sessions. The attended property provisions appear to make it illegal to have more belongings than a person can carry. However, many people utilize wheeled devices (carts, luggage) to transport personal belongings. This includes people who are elderly, infirm, disabled, tourists, and/or parents, as well as people who, due to economic circumstances, carry a heavier load. This ordinance appears to make it illegal to have something like heavy wheeled luggage in the downtown area (and beyond, possibly) – an incredibly troubling idea, which would exclude many people from enjoying our downtown spaces.
What We Can Do
Write to city council (email@example.com) to tell them that we don’t want any form of a sit-lie ban in Fort Collins. We don’t want a law that prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks or plazas, because we know that law will be enforced selectively against people experiencing homelessness, and because sitting on a sidewalk is not a harmful act. We should not be writing laws that target marginalized groups.
City Council will vote on the ordinance on March 7th. Fort Collins Homeless Coalition and our allies will be demonstrating outside City Hall (300 LaPorte Ave.) at 5pm on Tuesday, March 7th. At 6pm, we will go inside to speak directly to city council about why we don’t want or need an ordinance like this in Fort Collins.