Council votes down proposal restricting pedestrians in alleys

The City Council shot down a proposed ordinance Sept. 1 that would have restricted pedestrian traffic in alleys.

The vote was 10 to 3. (For details on the vote breakdown, see “Council Actions” below).

The proposed alley ordinance, introduced by Council Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), was intended to thwart criminal activity occurring in alleys that has eroded the quality of life in neighborhoods in his ward, such as Stevens Square.

The ordinance would have limited access to public alleys to abutting property owners and tenants and their guests. Emergency workers, garbage crews, and neighborhood patrol inspectors would have been exempted from the ordinance, however.

“One thing this will prompt is real ownership of the alleys,” Lilligren said at the Council meeting before the final vote.

Other councilmembers, however, had harsh words for the proposed ordinance, arguing it wouldn’t address the root causes of the city’s underlying public safety problems.

“The price in terms of our liberty is simply too high,” said Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), who added the alley restrictions would have set up the city for “national ridicule.”

While critics said the restrictions went too far and would have been unconstitutional, neighbors in support of the proposed alley ordinance said they have become fed up with crime in their backyards.

Judy Austin is no stranger to the drug dealers and the prostitutes in her alleyway. As a member of the Stevens Square Block Patrol, Austin has seen more than her share of illegal activity. Coming home from work at late at night, Austin, a registered nurse, has pulled into the alley and had dealers put their faces right up to the windows of her car.

“It’s very unnerving and very uncomfortable,” she says. “I was surrounded by four people one night, at about 2 in the morning, and there’s no one around at that hour.”

The Whittier Alliance and Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) did not taken an official position on Lilligren’s proposal, which has been the topic of a heated discussion on the SSCO’s mailing list. Local bloggers have also questioned the need for another ordinance, when there are already laws targeting criminal behavior. One man wondered if he’d be ticketed for walking his dog through an alley.

On Aug. 24, Lilligren and Assistant City Attorney Lisa Godon spoke at a meeting of the SSCO Safety Committee, where they tried to address some of these concerns, but opponents of the proposed alley ordinance failed to show up.

While emphasizing that they were not speaking on behalf of SSCO, many neighborhood activists were clearly in favor of the proposal.

“It really comes down to the fact that people are not supposed to be walking in the alleys to begin with,” said local resident Jay Damberg. “It’s meant for vehicles going to the actual residences in that block. It’s not for pedestrian traffic. So people shouldn’t be in there anyways.”

Members of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee moved the proposed ordinance along to the full City Council without recommendation Aug. 23. The committee’s decision — or lack thereof — came after a lengthy public hearing that featured residents on both sides of the debate.

“There are some indications that there are some connections betweens alleys and crime,” Godon told the committee.

At the hearing, Corcoran resident Dave Bicking said he opposes the ordinance because it criminalizes innocent behavior in an attempt to prevent crime.

“It is a clear run around our system of constitutional justice,” he said.

— Southwest Journal reporter Kari VanDerVeen contributed to this report