The question if certain “behaviors” in downtown Ashland have been curtailed by ordinances intended to curb panhandling, smoking and loitering may be answered in part by a survey done of downtown businesses which will be presented to the Ashland City Council on Tuesday.
The city commissioned the $5,000 survey in July to determine if their enacted prohibitions on smoking and "aggressive panhandling," as well as sitting on sidewalks near the curb, often called, “sit/lay laws,” had curtailed the behavior.
The project team did not speak with tourists, residents or people on the homeless spectrum for the survey.
“Business owners and managers were picked as the ideal respondents for this survey," according to the report prepared by the Southern Oregon University Resource Center (SOURCE), "because they observe downtown interactions on a consistent basis, enabling them to be more reliable in reporting on a change over time. Additionally, the fact that members of the research team could call or walk into a downtown business made it more likely that we could pursue non-respondents and get a higher response rate.”
The response rate was 78 percent, with 146 questionnaires returned out of 187 sent out.
The survey asked businesses to compare the summer of 2015 to summer 2016.
The report says businesses reported a lessening of smoking downtown: “Overall, more than half of businesses reported a decrease in smoking and vaping on sidewalks in the outside perimeter of their downtown businesses from the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016.”
Of the restaurants with sidewalk tables that responded to the survey, 71 percent reported no change in the incidents of diners being solicited for money from summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016
Only 5 percent of the businesses reported a decrease in the presence of uniformed Ashland officers from the summer of 2015 compared to the summer of 2016. A majority of respondents said it had stayed the same and about one-third of the businesses reported an increase in uniformed presence
Almost half reported no change in the obstruction of sidewalks in the front or side of their downtown businesses, while one-quarter saw a reduction.
Four banks were asked whether they had seen a change in customers being solicited for money while using the ATM. Two of the banks reported that there was no change, saying ATM customers continued to be solicited. One of the banks reported ATM solicitations were never a problem. The fourth bank reported that 2016 was the worst year yet for ATM solicitations.
Overall, 20 businesses said the ordinances helped, 13 reported no change, 29 said people just shifted to other parts of town and 21 businesses said it’s become worse since the ordinances were passed.
Ten of the businesses surveyed, according to the report, said panhandling, smoking and loitering is “bad for tourism.”
However, six said the ordinances were bad for business. “I absolutely despise these laws because I own a bar and I’m trying to run a business, if anything, I think the new laws have been a drag on all activity downtown,” one business owner was quoted as saying. The report did not give the name of the bar owner who gave the comment nor did it identify the retail business, which stated that Ashland is “over-regulated.”
Councilors will hear the full report at their meeting Tuesday. The report makes no recommendations but advises that the ordinances and issues may require a greater level of discussion.
The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber at 1175 East Main St., Ashland. Proceedings are cablecast live on Channel 9 (or 180) and streamed online at rvtv.sou.edu.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.