PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As Portland faces homelessness and drug abuse crises, Portland City Commissioner of Public Safety Rene Gonzalez is pushing for Mayor Wheeler’s public drug use ban and claims the city is gearing up to enforce a daytime camping ban in the fall.
Gonzalez has been taking aim at open drug use seen on Portland’s streets and is looking for ways the city can ban drug consumption.
“Portland residents are rightly outraged by public consumption of meth and fentanyl. They’re tired of breathing the fumes, they’re tired of their children witnessing it on the streets of Portland. We hear that loud and clear at Portland city government,” Gonzalez said.
In June, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed an outdoor ban on hard drug use. Wheeler’s proposal would have banned the use of drugs in public places such as sidewalks, streets and rights of way. In a press release announcing the proposal, he noted it would have banned public drug use whereas Measure 110 decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine.
“It basically treats outdoor consumption of fentanyl and meth the same way as the outdoor consumption of alcohol; you face a fine, you can even face jail time in the city of Portland,” Gonzalez said.
The mayor withdrew his proposal after the Oregon legislature passed a bill making fentanyl possession a misdemeanor.
Gonzalez says because of an “antiquated” Oregon law, the mayor’s proposal was pulled back. However, Gonzalez says the city has the option to bring the proposal to court for a declarative judgement.
“I encouraged him a few weeks ago to reconsider that and then we bring it back with what’s called a springing amendment so that upon a change in state law, upon a declaration from a court of competent jurisdiction, that immediately the ban will come into place,” Gonzalez explained.
However, he says the more likely scenario will be for the city to wait until the state legislature can pass legislation when they convene in February’s special session.
Despite not being able to enforce the ban right now, Gonzalez says the proposal still sends a message to Portlanders and others across the nation.
“We still felt it was important to bring this forward now to clearly communicate to Portland residents we see what’s happening in our streets; we hear you; we understand the outrage; we are responding as your Portland city government,” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, it’s communicating nationwide, Portland is no longer the place to come and camp and do hard drugs on our streets. So, the message is very, very important now, even if operationally, it may not come into effect until the state legislature meets early next year.”
In August, Gov. Tina Kotek announced the new Portland Central City Task Force, a 47-member group of business leaders and elected officials aiming to revitalize downtown Portland. The task force — which is co-chaired by Kotek and The Standard CEO Dan McMillan — is divided into committees focusing on community safety, neighborhood livability, housing and homelessness and the city’s tax structure for services.
Kotek announced that the task force will hold meetings through December where the group will present their revitalization recommendations to the Oregon Business Leadership Summit.
While the task force is new, Gonzalez agrees there should be collaboration between local businesses and the city.
“I think the devil is going to be in the detail, but any time the governor is meeting with business leaders in the city of Portland, I think that’s a good thing. I think parts of our government have sort of forgotten what employers contribute, the economic impact, I mean, we’re the economic engine of the state in many respects,” Gonzalez said.
He added, “anytime elected officials in the state are interacting with our big employers, small employers it is a good thing. What’s going to come out of it? I don’t know yet, I think they’re early in the process. There will be deeper engagement with city commissioners in the next phase, so looking forward to the details like everyone else on it.”
The creation of the task force comes after Mayor Wheeler announced a daytime camping ban which prohibits camping in public places from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and forbids camping near parks, docks, schools and construction zones. Campers also cannot block home and business entries.
Repeat violators will face a $100-dollar fine or 30 days in jail, but Gonzalez says the city will not enforce the ban until fall.
“The mayor’s plan during the summer is to educate and then to start enforcing in the fall. So, not sure we’re seeing any real change in operations quite yet in terms of the time, place and manner. We continue to sweep camps as we were prior to the time, place manner being implemented,” the commissioner said.
Gonzalez furthered that Portlanders will see enforcement this fall, adding, “from my vantage point, I’d like to start as soon as yesterday on enforcement of this. Every day we delay is unfortunate, but I understand the goal here is to educate.”
The camping restrictions follow a state law that requires cities to set time, place and manner camping restrictions.
“We are subject to a separate state law that limits how cities can enforce time, place, manner so, we have to check some boxes, dot some i’s, otherwise we’re going to get sued on how it’s enforced. That state law actually gives attorney fees to plaintiff’s lawyers that sue the city. So, it’s an unfortunate part of state law that again, encumbers our ability to address this issue. I think that’s part of the mayor’s caution in enforcement, but I’m looking forward to that changing very soon,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez says the City of Portland’s relationship with Multnomah County is improving — noting the commission-style form of government can help address issues like crime and homelessness.
“The reality is, city politics, city commission form of government, is highly responsive to voters. It just has a higher profile in a certain respect, so you’ve seen the city shift in some ways very quickly, it’s not as fast as residents would like, but in how it’s approaching issues like crime and homelessness. The county typically didn’t have as high a profile and you’ve just seen sort of a slower response,” Gonzalez said.