EVERETT — More than a dozen people addressed the Everett City Council on Wednesday evening in opposition to an ordinance that would criminalize sitting or lying on streets and sidewalks in a 10-block area east of Broadway in north Everett.
The “no-sit, no-lie” zone would stretch from 41st Street to Pacific Avenue near I-5, according to a map released in advance of the hearing. The neighborhood along Smith Avenue, which includes Everett Station and the Everett Gospel Mission, is a common gathering spot for people experiencing homelessness.
The ordinance would also prohibit people from providing food, goods, supplies or services in the area without a permit from the city.
The no-sit, no-lie ordinance is linked to a proposed village of about 20 small “pallet” dwellings to help transition people from the streets to more permanent housing.
The council could hold a final vote on the proposal as soon as March 17. If approved, the ordinance would go into effect 15 days later.
During a meeting last month, the council voted 5-2 for an amendment proposed by Councilman Scott Bader that the pallet shelters only move forward at a location in the neighborhood if the no-sit rule is in place.
The pallet project would be funded by a grant of more than $1 million from the state. A timeline for the pallet shelters is unclear.
“I perceive that if we don’t do something like this designated right-of-way conduct ordinance in that area, the pushback we would get from that community would be so strong, that at least the way I count votes, I don’t think the votes would be there for pallet shelters,” Bader told The Daily Herald.
No members of the public spoke in favor of the no-sit, no-lie ordinance at the hearing Wednesday.
“I will never understand how during a pandemic anyone could suggest that we sweep the homeless around like trash, criminalizing their presence and the presence of those that wish to provide them with their most basic of needs,” said Luisana Hernandez, a newly appointed member of the Law and Justice Council of Snohomish County.
The pallet shelter community was proposed for a vacant lot behind the Everett Gospel Mission’s shelter on Smith Avenue.
“We need new strategies for down there,” Julie Willie, Everett’s community development director, said ahead of the meeting. “These businesses have been suffering for a long time. By using these pallets and using the no-sit, no-lie, I believe it will really, maybe, give these poor businesses a break.”
City council members were concerned that neighbors near Smith Avenue have already been disproportionately affected by Everett’s homeless crisis.
A 2018 federal court decision prevents governments from enforcing laws that ban homeless people from sleeping or camping on public property in cities where those individuals do not have an alternative place to go, such as a shelter or sanctioned encampments.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case Martin v. City of Boise notes that enforcing such an ordinance may be legal if the rule is limited to a particular time or place.
Everett City Attorney David Hall said the proposal encompasses only a small fraction of the city. The ban is a “necessary political tradeoff,” Hall said, if the city wants to build the pallet shelter village in the neighborhood.
“All that is required to comply” is for homeless citizens “to move several blocks away from the area,” Hall told the council Wednesday. “Obviously, the intent isn’t to criminalize behavior but to change behavior within this small area, with the leverage of criminal sanctions. But the hope is that they won’t be necessary.”
Hall said the limited scope of the city’s proposal should stand up to any future legal challenges. However, because of the amendment added by the council last month, if the ordinance were invalidated by the courts, the pallet shelters would no longer be allowed in the neighborhood.
And even a legal victory could be costly. Just last month, the City of Boise reached a $1.335 million settlement in its case — not to mention the untold costs of attorney fees for 12 years of litigation.
Under the ordinance, a person would not be cited unless they continue to violate the rule after being notified by law enforcement. Violators would face misdemeanor charges that could result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $500.
Holly Strack told the council she lives within walking distance of the proposed boundary. As a former homeless person, she said, the ordinance is insulting and disgusting.
“Sitting on a sidewalk is not a crime, sitting on a sidewalk is a necessity when you have nowhere else to sit,” she said.
Leslie Brown said she delivers food and aid to the people along Smith Avenue as part of a group called Snohomish County Mutual Aid.
“I think it is important for us to acknowledge that the city of Everett must treat local members of the houseless community as members of the community,” she said.
No matter the council’s decision, Brown said, she won’t stop serving those in need in the area.
Officials said the city spends more than $100,000 each year to clean the streets near Smith Avenue and 37th Street.
Crews visit the site two to three times a week and often require heavy equipment like excavators, dump trucks and flushing trucks to manage the upkeep.
“This is a unique area in terms of the amount of cleanup my team has to do in the city,” said Grant Moen, maintenance superintendent for the department of public works.
Councilmembers Liz Vogeli and Paul Roberts were opposed to the no-sit, no-lie proposal.
“Going forward with the pallet shelter project, I think, is hugely important for the city. I think trying to do that in a way that makes it as successful as possible is hugely important,” Roberts said. “I am troubled that this ordinance may not accomplish that, or it may actually diminish that.”
On Wednesday evening, the council president gave Vogeli permission to make a slideshow presentation to her colleagues, detailing the expensive impact passing the ordinance could have. She said the proposal could result in costly litigation, as well as burden the city with the costs of jailing people and providing public defenders for the indigent.
Vogeli asked the council members who supported the amendment to remove it and find another solution. No motion was made at the time.
The pallet-shelter project’s prospective operator, the Everett Gospel Mission, still needs to reach an agreement with the city on how that program would be run and get the correct permits before the site can be prepared.
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.