The Ketchikan City Council spent a lot of time on hawking Thursday night. Almost a full hour of public comment kicked off the meeting, with most of the comments devoted to that topic.
Ten people spoke in favor of two ordinances in front of the Council. The first prohibits downtown businesses from soliciting customers anywhere outside of an enclosed space. Previously, the city allowed businesses to use outdoor private property to solicit customers.
The second ordinance prohibits shops throughout the city from doing business in a way that likely would cause customers to block city sidewalks.
Amanda Painter was one of the speakers who wants the city to limit hawking. She works in the tourism industry, and says she’s no opposed to hawking in general; it has its place, but that place is not downtown Ketchikan. “It turns our community into a side show, which I’d rather not see. Our reputation, I feel, as a port of call will suffer, in general. We’re competing on an international level with these cruise ships. It’s real important that we take these steps. The kind of experience that we want to host for our guests is entirely different.”
Three people spoke against the hawking ordinance. They all own or work for businesses that lease outdoor private property space to sell tours during the summer.
Nils Utterback owns Northern Tours and has leased an outdoor space next to Salmon Landing for many years. He says if the ordinances pass as written, they will seriously affect his business. Utterback adds that the lease agreements to use those private spaces have their own restrictions. “Representing the outside front entrance of their businesses is not easy. My contracts … already include no hawking, no foul language and no smoking.”
Utterback says his employees don’t actively pursue customers. They will merely greet visitors, and engage only if a passing person responds.
Two other people asked the Council to postpone action on the ordinances in order to address concerns of tour vendors.
During Council discussion of the ordinance, Mayor Lew Williams III said he has concerns about the proposed rules. He says there is just a couple of people downtown causing problems. “I hate to punish everybody for two that have been really vocal and had some problems down there over the last couple of years.”
Council Member Bob Sivertsen says he was concerned for the local tour vendors that lease private outdoor space. He suggested that the Council approve the ordinance in first reading, and amend it before adoption.
The Council voted unanimously to approve the anti-hawking ordinance in first reading. The second ordinance also passed unanimously in first reading with no discussion.
If the Council eventually adopts the anti-hawking ordinance, it will establish a $200 fine for a first offense, a $300 fine for a second offense within 12 months, and a $500 fine for further offenses within 12 months.
Also Thursday, the Council agreed to move forward with the concept of a tobacco excise tax. Council members said they want to discuss the issue further with Ketchikan Gateway Borough officials.
In other action, the Council agreed to officially protest the liquor license renewal for First City Saloon’s package store, but that protest will not be sent to the state if the business pays its delinquent property tax by April 10.
The next Ketchikan City Council meeting is April 2.