With less than a month to go before the first cruise ship arrives in Alaska’s First City, the Ketchikan City Council chose Thursday to postpone action on a proposed ordinance that would restrict hawking. The ordinance won’t come back until after this year’s tourist season.
The Council spent a lot of time talking about the effects of hawking on tourism, and the best way to provide a good experience for visitors while also allowing businesses to flourish. Public comment alone took more than 90 minutes.
Two ordinances related to hawking were on the agenda, but most of the discussion was about the first, which calls for prohibiting businesses from soliciting customers anywhere outside of an enclosed space, such as a store. The ordinance includes fines that start at $200 for the first offense.
Some stores downtown have had employees stand just outside the store, calling out to potential customers. Other stores lease the small amount of private property outside their stores to other vendors, who then sell tours to passersby.
The public comment on the proposed ordinance was heated at times, with people speaking strongly in favor or against the rules. Steve McDonald, an independent tour operator, was decidedly opposed.
“My god, I thought I lived in a capitalistic country, not a socialistic country,” he said. “If this ordinance passes, there’s a bunch of property owners lined up already for a class-action lawsuit on this. To basically tell people, first amendment right of free speech, on private property that they’re renting, that they can’t talk to people when they’re walking by their store, that’s an issue that I don’t think you guys want to deal with. How can you enforce it?”
Chuck Slagle, who also operates tourism-related businesses, spoke just as decidedly in favor of the ordinance.
“The tour operators brought this on themselves,” he said. “You can’t walk down Main Street and Mission Street without a problem. You can’t stand on the dock without a problem. If they didn’t want to be held accountable, they should have solved this on their own. This problem of unmitigated aggressive approach to our people somehow needs to be solved.”
A couple of other business owners who cater to tourists suggested that it’s too close to the tourist season to implement new regulations. They also offered to be part of a committee that could come up with a set of rules for next season.
During Council discussion, Mayor Lew Williams III agreed there is a problem, especially at Mission and Main. He says the ordinance is a nice try, but it went too far and didn’t include enough input from the businesses that will be affected.
“If we pass this whole thing, I think we’re really getting ourselves into a problem with affecting the people who have been doing business down there correctly for a long time,” he said.
Most Council members agreed, and it appeared that the ordinance was going to fail. But then Council Member Dick Coose suggested postponing it until fall, instead of taking a vote now.
“It holds our feet to the fire and we have to deal with it at the end of September,” he said. “If we defeat it, then we’ve lost the fire.”
The motion to postpone passed unanimously, although the Council chose November for its return, rather than September. The Council directed the city manager to form a committee in the meantime to come up with recommendations.
The second ordinance was less controversial. It passed unanimously and with little discussion. That ordinance prohibits stores from doing business in a way that likely will lead to blocking the sidewalks.