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Standing room only: Phoenix-area city makes sitting on sidewalks illegal

PHOENIX — After a months-long debate between city council members and business owners, the city of Tempe has officially made it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks in parts of the city.

According to KJZZ, Tempe City Council members voted 5-2 to make it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalks that line Mill Avenue, which is often referred to as downtown Tempe.

The ban will occur from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and from 7 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday through Sunday.

Anyone who is found not complying with the ban will first be issued a warning, while second violations will result in a $100 fine for a Class 3 misdemeanor.

The ban comes months after business owners on the busy block began complaining about homeless people lying on the sidewalks in front of their stores, arguing they deter customers from shopping in the area.

Despite this, the city declared that “nothing in this ordinance will be construed or used to criminalize (the) homeless.”

Zach Cobian, owner of Rita’s Ice on Mill Avenue, wrote in an August 2015 e-mail to the City Council, saying his staff feels uncomfortable carrying out day-to-day activities due to their presence.

“It’s even to the point where my staff does not want to take the trash out at night after we close because they feel unsafe with all of them sitting around everywhere,” the e-mail read.

When the council voted to enact the ban on Thursday, other business owners in the area echoed Cobian’s concerns in statements to council members.

Fat Tuesday’s owner Chad Wilford highlighted the issue of panhandling on the street, saying people who are asking for money on the street are impeding on the customers.

“When I’m constantly berated by people asking my guests that are trying to enjoy themselves for money it’s a problem,” he told the council.

According to a Downtown Tempe Authority report, people were approached by panhandlers 834 times at the end of 2014, compared to 745 times in the first six months of 2015.

Downtown Tempe Authority president Kate Borders said in a March interview with Cronkite News that the ban is directed toward clearing sidewalks, not increasing the number of citations issued.

“We have no intent for advocating for a lot of citations,” she said.

The city already had bans in place against aggressive panhandling and urban camping and previously had a ordinance that prohibited the homeless from sitting on sidewalks, but it was dropped in 2014.

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