- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Dave “Stickman” Cortiana rubbed his tattooed hand along his dog’s side as she shut her eyes and stretched out on the warm brick sidewalk just off Mill Avenue in Tempe.

“She’s my Ruby,” Cortiana said. “She’s my blessing.”

It was the kind of Arizona weather that natives and transplants brag about. The time of year when tourists take refuge from winter and watch their favorite baseball team play a spring-training game.

Tempe is a favorite among tourists because of its central location between ballparks, and because of the historic feel of Mill Avenue mixed with its modern shops and restaurants.

The season usually is a good time of the year for Cortiana, too. He’s been homeless in Tempe for about nine years.

When the tourists are in town, he makes a little cash selling dream catchers that he weaves around dried devil’s claw plants.

But this year hasn’t been the same. In recent weeks, Cortiana said Tempe police have started kicking him out of his spot on Mill.

The reason is an ordinance approved in January by the Tempe City Council that bans sitting and lying down on Tempe public rights of way, such as streets, sidewalks, alleys and highways. The ordinance, approved 6-1, establishes a civil offense with fines up to $2,500. It also bans people who don’t reside on or own a property from using adjacent alleys as a thoroughfare.

National advocates for the homeless said such ordinances criminalize homelessness.

A 1999 Tempe ordinance that made it a misdemeanor to sit on a sidewalk downtown spurred a sit-in protest on Mill by advocates and people living on the streets. But that law had several exceptions, including requiring a warning first and limiting the sitting ban to the downtown area during certain hours.

Several Valley municipalities, including Phoenix, Mesa and Gilbert, have similar ordinances that ban obstruction of public rights of way. Scottsdale and Glendale officials told The Arizona Republic that they do not have such an ordinance.

“But if someone blocks a sidewalk, it could be a violation of … state law” Scottsdale spokesman Kelly Corsette said.

State law is narrower than Tempe’s ordinance and makes it a misdemeanor to “recklessly” interfere with passage on a highway or public thoroughfare by creating an “unreasonable inconvenience or hazard.”

After the meeting in January, Tempe Councilman Kolby Granville, who voted against the ordinance, posted on his Facebook page that passage of the ordinance means it is illegal in Tempe to sit on your neighborhood sidewalk. The post inflamed respondents. Some said the measure amounted to government heavy-handedness and could result in receiving a citation for sitting on the sidewalk while waiting for a bus or for their child playing on the sidewalk.

At the meeting, council members said they were not worried, because they were confident Tempe police would use common sense when enforcing the law.

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