The solicitation ordinance, which if passed would have de facto criminalized panhandling in most of downtown Northampton, has been withdrawn by the mayor's office & the police department from the Northampton city council'sconsideration and is "tabled indefinitely".
They cited "polarization around the issue" (that is, increased opposition to it!) making the discussion "no
longer productive" as their reasoning. I'll translate their face saving bureaucratese: due to the ACLU, Poverty Is Not A Crime, The Real Cost of Prisons, The Freedom Center, Arise for Social Justice, The Community Activation Network, and many citizens' displays of outrage against this classist legislation, the mayor's office and the Chamber of Commerce quit while they were ahead with this one.
This is an amazing victory for low income rights in Northampton, and Poverty Is Not A Crime plans to build on this success with more work around popular representation, food distribution, low income housing, shelter conditions and space, work against the prison industrial complex,the reclamation of abandoned buildings for housing, and many other projects by and for the marginalized in this region.
Poverty Is Not A Crime organizer
Freedom Center collective member
member of Arise for Social Justice
here's the Gazette article from today
Hot-button item tabled: Panhandling issue sidelined, BID talks continue in Northampton
Panhandling issue sidelined, BID talks continue in Northampton
By CHAD CAIN
Friday, February 6, 2009
NORTHAMPTON - A hotly contested solicitation ordinance that in recent weeks has been linked to a proposal to create a business improvement district downtown was tabled indefinitely by its sponsors Thursday night.
"We think it is important to take the Solicitation Ordinance discussion off the table so that the Business Improvement District discussion can proceed independently without the concerns surrounding the Solicitation Ordinance," wrote Mayor Clare Higgins in a memo to the council.
Higgins sponsored the solicitation ordinance last June with Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz. The ordinance faced fierce opposition from community members who over the last few months have taken to the streets and packed City Council chambers to protest the idea.
The mayor also said she tabled the proposal because the public debate is polarized and no longer productive, although she said the ordinance was submitted to address "very real concerns that have been brought to our attention for years by a broad spectrum of the Northampton public and to initiate a public dialogue about potential solutions to balancing use of the sidewalks and public safety."
The announcement was made prior to the continuation of a public hearing on a plan to create a downtown business improvement district, known as a BID. More than 25 people spoke for and against the idea in what many called a "more respectful" tone than the first part of the public hearing that took place last month.
The council did not vote on the proposal and now has 45 days to render a decision.
The district allows participating property owners in a specific area to pay into a fund used to achieve services and improvements beyond those already provided by the city.
Daniel Yacuzzo, chairman of the Downtown Steering Committee, outlined four main areas the BID would focus on. These include landscaping and maintenance, expanded marketing and added special events, enhanced public safety and special projects such as parking, transit and lighting.
Many of the speakers in the early part of the hearing spoke in favor of the BID, including both property and business owners who would likely pay the fee to create such a district.
Among them were Tara Tetreault and Kate Glynn, young business owners who say that while they aren't excited at the prospect of an increase in rent, they would like to be free of the burden of worrying about things like clean streets, attractive landscaping and many other items the BID will address.
"Anyone who owns a business knows that business as usual is not going to cut it. The status quo will not do," said Glynn, who owns A Child's Garden and Impish.
In a comment that drew a laugh from some of the longtime downtown business owners in the audience, Tetreault, who recently opened Jackson & Connor in Thornes Marketplace, noted that many of the business community's "movers and shakers" are approaching retirement and a new wave of younger business owners are filling the void.
The old ways of individual businesses solving the problems of downtown may have worked years ago, but not today, Tetreault and many other supporters said.
"Northampton is slipping from its castle on the hill and we need to get it back," Tetreault said.
Other supporters contend that the BID would give property owners the collective power to clean the streets, to plant flowers and trees, and to support the annual holiday lights, to name a few of the many initiatives the BID would undertake.
The BID's nearly $1 million budget would also fund an extensive marketing plan, something Yacuzzo said is needed.
"We need to rebrand Northampton. That in itself is going to cost some dollars," he said.
Those who oppose the BID, like Jordi Herold, contend that the tax burden is too rich for them. Herold, whose family owns four blocks downtown, said he often offers lenient leases with long-term rents that can't increase dramatically from year to year.
"It would be $10,000 to $12,000 out of pocket for us and it would be very painful," he said.
While opponents of the solicitation ordinance were glad that it has been tabled for now, they are concerned about comments in the BID related to panhandling. The BID's business plan states that it will work with the city and public safety officials to implement a commercial solicitation ordinance to reduce panhandling and aggressive solicitation.
"The very presence of the poor is a problem to the BID," said Caty Simon.
Others questioned why Smith College is participating and what benefit it gets out of being a member, and whether a recession is the right time to institute new fees on property and business owners