Councilors discuss expanding noise ordinance, ATVs, downtown exclusion

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week continued discussion on several ordinances last week that would add the human voice to the noise ordinance, allow the use of certain ATVs on city streets, outlaw urination and defecation in public places and allow officers to exclude repeat offenders from the downtown area.

The city’s current noise ordinance excludes the human voice, said City Manager Ray Towry during the council’s regular meeting on Sept. 10. That leaves arrest for disorderly conduct as the only mechanism authorities have to deal with noise complaints involving human voices.

“It’s kind of all or nothing,” Towry said. “You either arrest them or not. There is no middle step.”

In response to previous council discussion on Aug. 27, City Attorney Robert Snyder proposed removing the exception in the noise ordinance for the human voice, which would allow police officers and the code enforcement officer the option to cite someone for yelling under city ordinance.

It’s a “tool in the toolbox” for the officers, Towry said, noting that the city does occasionally have issues with people yelling vulgarities at the tops of their lungs.

“How big a problem is this?” asked Councilor Dave Trask.

“It happened today,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. “I’m not going to say it happens a lot.”

But it would be a tool his officers could use to address issues when they arise, without having to arrest anyone, Lynn said. Officers rarely cite anyone for violating the noise ordinance, and most people comply and quiet down their activity when an officer responds to a noise complaint.

Councilor Lisa Gourley worried about what would happen in a situation with a small gathering in a yard and a neighbor who doesn’t like it.

The officers can determine what is reasonably loud and disturbing, Lynn said.

“Right now, “his only other option, if you won’t comply, is to throw you in jail,” Towry said.

A draft ordinance will move before the council at its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at City Hall, 3225 Main St.

Downtown Exclusion

The council continued discussion on an ordinance that would allow police officers to “exclude” or trespass people who are cited or arrested in the downtown area, called an “enhanced law enforcement area,” three times in a five-year period.

The first exclusion would be for 30 days, Lynn said. Additional offenses would lead to 90-day exclusions.

The exclusion area would include 4th Avenue to 22nd Avenue along Main, Long and Nandina streets.

Councilor Cortney Nash expressed concerns that kicking offenders out of the area would lead to them “ransacking houses” and “2-o’clock shopping” in residential areas.

He said maybe the exclusion zone could include the entire city.

Those types of zones have not survived court challenges because they’re “too broad,” Lynn said. He acknowledged that “we just might be displacing them somewhere else.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing this go for all commercial zones,” said Mayor Greg Mahler, all the way to The Point Restaurant.

Towry said he could do some research about extending the zone.

Sweet Home resident Bob Dalton said he was concerned that the ordinance was targeted at the homeless.

“It only pushes the issue out further,” he said. “It’s not getting at the problem. We can’t just wave a wand at it and hope it goes away.”

Reading the weekly public safety log in the newspaper, he noted that it’s not the homeless appearing in it.

“Those are the names that are being targeted,” Towry said. The idea is to exclude those who repeatedly commit crimes in the area. “This is not at all meant to be (directed) at the homeless community.”

This is for the shoplifter or those drinking in public, Towry said. “Homelessness is a wicked, wicked issue. It has many root causes and requires a multi-faceted approach.”

Under the proposed ordinance, the police chief or Municipal Court must grant variances to persons under an exclusion order for constitutionally protected activities as well as a variety of other reasons, including church attendance, drug treatment, meeting with an attorney and attending school or work.

The council will continue discussoin on the ordinance Sept. 24.

Urination and Defecation

The council voted to move forward with an ordinance banning urination and defecation in public places. The ordinance will appear before the City Council at its regular meeting on Sept. 24 for a first reading.

The council must hold three readings, typically at three different meetings, before it can vote to adopt an ordinance. Ordinances take effect 30 days after passage.

ATVs and Traffic Safety

The council held the first reading of an ordinance that would allow class IV all-terrain vehicles to be used on city streets if properly equipped. Class IV ATVs are also known as “side-by-sides.”

The council also held the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit people in vehicles from handing items to pedestrians in the roadway.

The second readings will be held on Sept. 24 and if the council approves, again at its regular meeting on Oct. 8 when the council can decide whether to adopt the ordinance. The ordinance would take effect in November.

Present at the meeting were councilors Nash, Gourley, Mahler, Diane Gerson and Trask. Susan Coleman and James Goble were absent.

In other business, the council approved the closure of 14th Ave-nue from just below Grape Street to Kalmia Street during the Harvest Festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 5.

The closure is meant to reduce safety issues associated with pedestrians and vehicles during the fun run and Harvest Festival (see page 3).

Residents will still have access, and handicapped parking is available in the Sankey Park parking lots.