New tools sought in battle to clear up city’s sidewalks

City officials are looking to make sidewalks throughout Keizer more accessible for their intended purpose and it might mean basketball hoops will need to be removed when not in use. 

Sidewalk obstructions were the topic of a Keizer City Council work session on Monday, June 10. Over the years, complaints about sidewalk obstructions, specifically basketball hoops, in residential neighborhoods are a regular complaint of many residents. 

Councilors debated the merits of updating city code with enforcement mechanisms to remove obstructions, which don’t currently exist in the city code.

“Putting a basketball standard on a sidewalk impedes mobility. We want to make sure they can use a sidewalk the way it is intended,” said Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark. 

The council began by discussing how Salem dealt with this issue in the past: passing a code that outlawed basketball hoops altogether. That policy wasn’t successful. 

“The city of Salem outlawed basketball standards and were completely overwhelmed with the number confiscated and had to lease a whole separate property for them,” Community Development Director Nate Brown told the council. Salem then softened the policy by choosing to remove offending hoops on a case-by-case complaint basis. 

Another problem with outright banning basketball hoops, Brown said, is that they add something to a community. 

“It’s also a livability issue in that it creates a sense of neighborhood,” he said.

Because basketball hoops can be an outlet for family and neighborhood bonding, the council would like to include a provision in the new policy they draft to allow for hoops to be on the sidewalk as long as they are actively in use. 

However, while basketball hoops were the catalyst for this discussion, the council would like to address any kind of obstruction to sidewalks. Councilors discussed ways of creating a city code that could tactfully address the issue of obstruction when it arises. They would like to implement a complaint-based system similar to Salem’s. 

 “If they are violating the ordinance, we would give them opportunity to comply. If it was a problem that obstructed somebody else’s use then we might ask that that it be put somewhere else when it’s not in use,” Brown said.

 In the event the obstruction is not cleared, the city would like to have a citation and fine mechanism to enforce the policy. If the obstruction remains after issuance of a citation and fine, the city would consider confiscating the obstruction.

The city council said creating an enforcement mechanism to clear obstructions would lift the burden off of the city’s code enforcement officer, Ben Crosby.

Senior City Planner Shane Witham added that as of right now, when someone makes a complaint about an obstruction in a residential area, Crosby must rely on the goodwill of those who own the offending obstruction.

“One of Ben’s least favorite things to do is try to bluff his way through something without policy or rules to back him up. Having the ability to issue a citation and then confiscate after non-compliance is a tool,” Witham said.  

That aligned well with the council’s goals. 

“We already know our code enforcement officer is overwhelmed. I want to be able to give him another tool rather than another burden,” said City Councilor Laura Reid.

The conversation ultimately looped back to a fairly basic point: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Ideally, people would be considerate of their neighbors and not block the sidewalk. But since that’s not the case, the council is stepping in to draft enforceable policy.

“This should be a common-sense issue and I feel like we are legislating common sense. Part of this is just to urge citizens to be aware” of others’ needs, Reid said.