What It Means to Impede

Eugene homeless advocates concerned about proposed changes to City Code

The city of Eugene says it’s looking to clarify some hard-to-explain terms like “impede” and “willful” in a proposed administrative order from the city manager’s office, but Eugene-area homeless advocates are concerned the proposal would serve to further restrict the unhoused downtown.

The order, R-4.872, affects the Downtown Activity Zone, the area bounded by the center lines of 6th Avenue, Lincoln Street, 11th Avenue and High Street. According to Eugene City Code, the DAZ is “intended to encourage private investment in the downtown area and to enhance the value of such investments by encouraging pedestrians to come to the area.”

Laura Hammond, spokesperson for City Manager Jon Ruiz’s office, says the rule is intended to “give clarity to folks who work downtown and clarity on what the rules are.” Hammond says the city has extended the comment period from March 28 to April 4 and is looking for feedback from the public.

Administrative orders from the city manager do not require a vote by the Eugene City Council.

Eugene City Councilor Emily Semple says the changes reduce the area of the sidewalk where people are able to sit. The new language refers to an 8-foot area rather than a 5-foot area that must be kept clear for pedestrians, which, she says, “some see as advantageous and some see as not so great.”

Jean Stacey of the group SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) is among those who question the changes. She says the new language, which also lays out what the city considers “unimpeded pedestrian area” and “landscaped pedestrian area,” narrows the area between the sidewalk and the street to keep people from camping there, and it still leaves the decision about whether someone is impeding up to interpretation by the police.

The administrative order allows for a person to believe “in good faith” that there was an 8-foot travel lane available. But Stacey says a police officer may be less likely to believe a person who appears unhoused to be using good judgment. 

Stacey wonders if the proposed order is in reaction to the Boise homeless ruling, in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that an ordinance banning sleeping outdoors is unconstitutional if the people it affects have no other options available.

Fellow homeless advocate Zondie Zinkie of HEAT (Homeless Empathy Action Team) is skeptical of the order as well. “This seems like another move to keep people who have markers of being unhoused or counterculture form having any visibility downtown,” she says.

Ilyas Ansari, a lifelong resident of Eugene who is currently unhoused, also criticizes the rule. “In these turbulent times of Trump, it seems the once open-minded city of Eugene’s hierarchy is following the wonderful example [of Trump] by using public money to take away public spaces,” Ansari says.

According to City Code, violation of section 4.872 is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. The “willful violation of section 4.872” in the DAZ only is $1,000 or confinement in jail not to exceed one year, or both fine and imprisonment.

Semple says she’d like to see other places to sit downtown, as well as places where people can gather with their dogs and smoke. She says Eugene’s downtown smoking ban has actually coalesced groups of smokers, making it more daunting for others.

Semple says it is critical that there be a downtown day center for the unhoused.

To comment on the administrative order, go to eugene-or.gov/520/Administrative-Order. You can comment via email to LSelser@eugene-or.gov, or by postal mail to Lindsey Selser, Planning and Development, 99 W. 10th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, 97401. Comments are due by 5 pm April 4.