About two dozen people roundly criticized a proposed downtown dog ban Monday night as discriminatory against homeless people and impossible to enforce.
The proposed ordinance would ban owners from bringing their dogs to the downtown core, with the exception of dog owners who live and work in the area, K-9 police dogs and service dogs.
Some critics went so far as to call the proposed ban morally wrong and said the focus of the city councilors should be on real solutions to improve downtown safety.
Less than a dozen people voiced support for the proposed ban, saying it has been effective near the University of Oregon.
campus and other cities and is one small step on the long road to improve downtown safety that will require many short- and long-term solutions.
“We have to do something,” said Brittany Quick Warner, director of business advocacy for the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce. “We can’t keep talking in circles.”
City councilors also held a public hearing on a downtown smoking ban, but the testimony was continuing as of The Register-Guard’s print deadline. Forty-two people signed up to testify on that proposed ban.
Both proposed ordinances would be temporary, if approved. They would expire on Nov. 1, without a vote by the council to extend them.
Eugene city councilors scheduled the public hearings on the two ordinances as they continue to look for ways to improve safety in the area.
Dozens of residents and business owners testified last month that downtown has become hostile and unwelcoming because of loiterers engaged in harassing and illegal behavior. They urged the city’s elected leaders to take action.
Earlier this month, a consultant hired by the city to look at ways to make downtown public spaces safer and more welcoming said public perception that the area is unsafe has reached “crisis level” and is thwarting its potential to become more vibrant.
The proposed ordinances for the downtown core are aimed at changing the behavior of loiterers downtown, many of whom smoke or are accompanied by dogs. City officials say they’re also intended to improve public health.
The downtown core is roughly bordered by Lincoln Street to the west, Eight Avenue to the north, Pearl Street to the east and 11th Avenue to the south.
Eugene police Chief Pete Kerns said last year the dogs are well-behaved 90 percent of the time, but it’s upsetting for people when they are not. A dog also attacked and killed a dog owned by a city library employee in downtown this summer, and the employee was injured.
The proposed ordinance is identical to a dog ban in the West University neighborhood along stretches of Alder Street and East 13th Avenue.
The council adopted that ban more than 20 years ago, and city officials said it solved the problems associated with having dogs in the area.
Both the existing and proposed ordinance have a broad definition of dog owner to include the licensed owner as well as anyone who “harbors a dog or who has it in their care, possession, custody or control or who knowingly permits a dog to remain on any premises occupied by the person.”
The proposed ordinance defines a service dog as a canine that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The definition under the proposed ordinance does not extend to dogs that deter crime by their presence or offer emotional support, comfort or companionship.
Critics said there’s no way for a police officer to distinguish between a dog and a service animal, which would be allowed downtown under the exception. While an officer can ask what task the service animal performs, he or she can’t inquire about the individual’s disability under federal law, they said.
A group of about two dozen Horsehead bar employees and other people made a noisy arrival before the public hearings.
The group gathered outside the long window looking into Harris Hall, where city councilors were holding an earlier meeting, repeatedly and loudly chanting “No smoking ban.” There were a few bangs on the window. Employees quickly closed the window blinds, and the group quieted after stern warnings by a security guard and a leader within the group.
The proposed ordinance authorizes the city manager to permit smoking after 6 p.m. in designated areas outside private establishments, including bars and taverns, that make such a request.
But Joey Walraven, a cook at the Horsehead for six years, said the bar receives substantial business before 6 p.m. to the extent that, Walraven said, she and other employees could lose their jobs.
“If this passes, they’re going to take away my livelihood,” she said.