Saratoga Springs enacts ban on sidewalk-sitting
The council voted 4-1 to approve a measure that bans people from sitting on sidewalks. Mayor Joanne Yepsen cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she believed it was too harsh.
According to the measure, a person sitting or laying on a sidewalk would be first issued a warning. If the person refuses to move, they could be hit with a $50 to $100 fine, which could increase for more offenses within 24-hour time period.
After that, the person could be charged with a misdemeanor, meaning they could face a $400 to $500 fine, community service, imprisonment, or both a fine and imprisonment.
The law comes at a time when elected officials, business leaders and community service groups are grappling with the problem of aggressive panhandlers and vagrants who congregate in downtown Saratoga Springs. City officials have been working with agencies to find a solution to the problem.
A public hearing took place before the vote. The majority of residents in attendance had opposing words to say regarding the sidewalk measure, with few actually in support of it.
A common complaint among most the measure’s opponents was they thought it targeted the homeless population in Saratoga Springs. People felt this measure would not get those individuals the help that they need, but merely create a problematic situation for them if they face a fine or the possibility of being arrested.
“It’s targeting a specific group of people … it’s disgusting,” said one woman.
Another man spoke directly to the city council, insinuating that they do not understand people who are different than them. The issue of a gap between city officials and the lower-class population was a common point made by many individuals at the public hearing.
One man spoke in support of the bill, saying that this is strictly a public safety issue. He recited a story of a time when he witnessed an aggressive panhandler harassing individuals on the sidewalk.
“Aggressive and professional panhandlers come here,” he said.
Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen spoke strongly in support of the bill throughout the public hearing, reiterating that it was about safety, not about targeting one group or anyone’s way of life.
“People have a right to walk on the sidewalk without being obstructed,” he said. “We should not turn this into something it’s not.”
He also stated that if complaints were not being made about people tripping over others on the sidewalks, then this ordinance would not be brought into effect. He said that the City Council has an obligation to do something.
The final speaker during the public hearing welcomed the “vibrancy” and diversity of Saratoga Springs, saying she opens her windows at night because of it.
“Don’t let that end,” she said. “Don’t let Saratoga be a one-horse town.”