Assembly repeals sidewalk sitting ban

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Assembly voted 7-4 Tuesday night to repeal the section of a law passed in November that makes it illegal to sit or lie on downtown sidewalks, except in certain cases.

Two Assembly members who originally voted for the provision, Debbie Ossiander and Dick Traini, sponsored the ordinance to repeal it.

"Sitting on the sidewalk is an American tradition," Traini said. "Why they're there is not our business. It's owned by the public."

Ossiander said she's nearing the end of her term, and looking back at things she could have done better. "This doesn't feel right," she said of the prohibition on sitting.

But Mayor Dan Sullivan has said he strongly supports the no-sitting provision. He said in an interview Tuesday night that he plans to veto the repeal. It would take 8 Assembly votes to overturn a veto.

At an Assembly work session earlier this month, Sullivan said police have issued no citations under the law. But Sullivan said before issuing a citation, police ask people to move along, and that works.

The law as approved in November made it illegal to sit or recline on downtown sidewalks from 6 a.m. to midnight weekdays and through 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. There are exceptions, such as for medical emergencies or while waiting for tickets at a ticket window, or for food from a street vendor.

The sitting-on-sidewalks ordinance also made it a crime to intentionally obstruct pedestrian or vehicle traffic, to panhandle downtown, and to panhandle after dark anywhere in town.

The repeal sponsored by Traini and Ossiander only applies to the prohibition against sitting or lying on sidewalks, not the rest of the ordinance.

Sullivan pushed for the law after a homeless man and convicted sex offender John Martin staged a protest last summer and fall, sitting, standing or lying on the City Hall sidewalk or across the street for weeks at a time. Others joined him. Martin said he was protesting the mayor's homeless policies.

The city had no law against such activity, so city officials researched what other cities have done, and wrote up the proposed law.

Despite the law, Martin has still been seen sitting on the City Hall sidewalk sometimes in recent months.

Traini said he supported the no-sitting-on-sidewalks provision in the first place because he thought the ACLU, which protects civil liberties, was OK with the proposal. That turned out to be misinformation.

Local representatives of the ACLU have since said they have concerns about the constitutionality of both the no-sitting provisions and the panhandling section.

"There are provisions in here (regarding sidewalk sitting) that we think any court" would disagree with, Jeff Mittman, executive director of ACLU of Alaska, told the Assembly on Tuesday.

One such provision he cited would let people sit on a sidewalk while waiting in line for commercial purposes, such as while waiting to buy tickets, but not if they were homeless.

Mittman said it would be legal to have an ordinance that said, "You may not obstruct the sidewalk."

Voting to repeal were Ossiander, Traini, Patrick Flynn, Harriet Drummond, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman, and Adam Trombley. Voting against repeal were Bill Starr, Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston and Ernie Hall.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

Anchorage Daily News