Since last year, the Bend-La Pine School District has tried to find someone to purchase Troy Field, a one-acre spread of lawn downtown. Adjacent to McMenamin's Old St. Francis and caddy-corner from City Hall, the space has long been an ad hoc public space, with pickup soccer and baseball games, and serving as an informal dog park.
The school district wisely was trying to liquidate under-used assets and potentially tap into an additional $2.5 million for its budget. In that process, though, Troy Field was vulnerable to becoming a commercial development—and downtown Bend was looking at a future with less public green space; not a scenario we'd like to see.
The City of Bend, however, may swoop in to the rescue and may be able to keep Troy Field as a public space. During budget talks last week, City Manager Eric King said that the City may be interested in structuring a purchase of the property.
Yet, ironically, at the same time that City officials are considering the purchase of Troy Field—and in the process, preserving public spaces in the downtown region—City Council is also beginning discussions about expanding so-called "exclusionary zones."
Currently, the City of Bend allows police to "exclude" for 90 days persons accused of civil violations from specific areas downtown; the alleged violations can be as innocuous as littering, underage drinking, or simply being noisy, and, moreover, the person does not need to be convicted of the violation, just accused by a police officer. On Wednesday, City Council heard a first reading of an amendment to the ordinance that would expand the exclusionary zone, a space that was first set in place in 2010, and currently covers Drake Park and some adjacent property. This amendement would expand the exclusionary zone tenfold. A second reading is scheduled for June 3.
There are certainly compelling reasons and desires to have an exclusionary zone—and the recommendation to City Council lists those reasons. It is a means to reduce crime—especially with chronic offenders—and it is an opportunity for more civility downtown.
Interestingly, though, in the report to City Council from City staff recommending the expansion, under the heading of "cons" only one word is listed: "None."
That is disingenuous.
While we certainly agree that police should have tools to maintain safety and civility, there are distinct concerns about exclusionary zone, and City Council would be wise to consider those. Cities like Portland have struggled with the constitutionality for such exclusionary zones, and waived them a decade ago. Moreover, there are philosophical underpinnings of allowing some people, and not others, into downtown.
In his exit interview with the Source, Downtown Bend Business Association Executive Director Chuck Arnold expressed his support for expanding the exclusionary zone, but did so with certain, reasonable caveats.
"The important thing, what we need to come together with as a community is—we want to welcome everyone, we absolutely do, but we don't welcome every behavior and it's a question of what behaviors we want to tolerate in our community," he said. "When someone who's dealing with mental health issues or is just otherwise frustrated or mad at the world today is yelling obscenities at children, I think that's not the community we want in our downtown. Do we not want that person? That's absolutely not the point. The point of the exclusion is to mitigate criminal activity and say we will not tolerate certain behaviors. It's not to choose who we want downtown, it's much more about what behaviors we want in our community."
This proposal to expand the exclusionary zone from its current jurisdiction over Drake Park to just about all of downtown should not be a slam dunk. City Council should recognize that there are, indeed, "cons" to exclusionary zones—such as, crime doesn't just disappear because it is out of sight of downtown; like squeezing a balloon, those problems don't go away, but simply will bulge out elsewhere in the city. And then what? How far will the exclusionary zone expand?
And, if experiences in other cities are indicative, exclusionary zones can be misused to sweep away "undesirables," a term that can be dangerously broad and arbitrary.
Yes, we want a downtown that is safe and civil, but we also want to make sure that our public spaces remain open to the public.