Taking pains to avoid blaming the homeless, Medford City Council Thursday night debated but ultimately rejected expanding an exclusion zone for bad behavior in the downtown while approving a neighborhood watch of sorts for parks.
Community members who addressed the council didn't have any problem identifying the source of much of the unwanted activity in the city, including public urination, defecation and harassment.
"We do have a problem with homeless people in the downtown area," Murray Richmond, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Medford, said. "We do have a problem with their behavior."
Richmond told the council that expanding the exclusion zone would likely just move the problem from one part of the city to another. He noted the problems that have plagued the downtown have affected his church, which is at the corner of Holly and Eighth streets.
"For a while, I felt like I was the pastor of poop," he said.
The council voted 4-3 against expanding a downtown exclusion zone that would have included Jackson County government buildings to the west. The existing zone, which extends from Bear Creek on the east to Oakdale Avenue on the west, and from Sixth to 10th streets, authorizes police to ban people for up to 90 days if they engage in unlawful activity, including public urination and harassment.
Medford police Chief Randy Sparacino said an expanded exclusion zone has the potential to push the problem into other neighborhoods to the west, an assessment that troubled of a majority of the council.
"This is just pushing folks out into the residential areas," Councilor Kay Brooks said.
Another law, approved by a 7-0 vote of the council, sets up a new system in which volunteers would be trained to help monitor the city's 27 parks and a 7-mile stretch of Greenway for nuisance behavior, including vandalism.
As part of the Parks Watch program, a phone number would be available for the public to alert the city about problems, though Brooks expressed unease about the "dystopian" direction the city was heading with signs everywhere telling people to call about unwanted behavior or wayward shopping carts.
"Soon it’s going to be like 'Blade Runner' here," she said, referring to the remake of the classic 1982 science fiction movie.
While the councilors supported the Park Watch initiative, they worried that expanding the exclusion zone would create a situation similar to improvements at Hawthorne Park. When the park was upgraded to make it more family-friendly, a number of homeless people shifted to Alba Park, which sits between Main and Eighth streets, a block from City Hall.
"I don't think that squeezing this balloon is going to solve this problem," Councilor Clay Bearnson said.
Councilor Kevin Stine continued to oppose the exclusion zones, saying, "I'll vote against these for eternity."
But Councilor Michael Zarosinski supported the expansion. "People who live and work in the downtown area are pretty frustrated," he said.
Councilor Dick Gordon said he favored the first exclusion zone boundary, but didn't support expanding it.
"I'm not sure it will solve a problem," he said.
Danny Jordan, Jackson County administrator, had requested the exclusion zone be expanded to include the Jackson County Courthouse, Justice Building, Juvenile Justice facility and District Attorney’s Office. He also asked that parking lots adjacent to these buildings be included.
Jackson County Commissioner Bob Strosser, a Medford resident, said the public is becoming increasingly intimidated at the prospect of visiting county government buildings.
"We're not singling out the homeless," he said. "We're singling out behavior."
Mayor Gary Wheeler supported the expansion of the exclusion zone, saying the public needs to feel safe in going to public buildings.
"I think this is a good way to work in cooperation with the county," he said. "Quite frankly, there is very bad behavior in the public."