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Courthouse added to exclusion zone

A divided Medford City Council has approved expanding a downtown exclusion zone to include a single building — the Jackson County Courthouse on Oakdale Avenue.

The exclusion zone gives Medford police the ability to ban someone from the downtown zone for 90 days for a variety of offenses, including drunkenness, sex offenses, criminal mischief, graffiti, failure to control dangerous dogs, public urination, harassment, menacing and theft.

Councilors, who voted 5-3 for the ordinance that will come back for a second vote on Dec. 21 before taking effect, were divided Thursday whether the current exclusion zone that goes from Bear Creek to Oakdale Avenue and from Sixth Street to 10th Street was even working.

"I don't see any reduction of the problem," said Councilor Kevin Stine, who joined two other councilors in opposing the ordinance, which critics say targets the homeless.

But Councilor Tim D'Alessandro, who supported the expansion, said the number of people receiving additional citations in the downtown had gone down, he said.

Councilor Kay Brooks said she thought D'Alessandro's comment was misleading.

She said he was looking at only the data within the exclusion zone, but there has been no data from outside the zone to see if the problem is being pushed elsewhere.

Brooks said a friend of hers just outside the current exclusion zone has encountered numerous incidents of bad behavior.

"She has just as many people pooping and peeing in her alley," Brooks said. "Maybe we'll have to expand the exclusion zone for the entire city. We'll see what Phoenix and Central Point think of that."

People can be excluded from the zone only if they have committed an offense that results in them being cited to appear, arrested or otherwise taken into custody. An excluded individual can enter the zone for medical or social services, employment, religious services, public meetings and court hearings. Sleeping or camping in the downtown area wouldn’t trigger the exclusion.

The Jackson County Courthouse, at 10 S. Oakdale Ave., and surrounding grounds is a center for county government business. The current exclusion zone, which bans individuals who have committed offenses from the downtown area, currently stops at the curb on the west side of Oakdale.

County officials have complained of increased incidents of harassment, human waste and other bad behavior on their properties after the city created the exclusion zone.

Local residents also have complained to county officials about intimidation as they enter the courthouse building.

The back doors of the annex to the courthouse building were broken open, and a generator was stolen, later found across the street.

Originally, the county requested the city expand the exclusion zone to include all county buildings to the west of the downtown.

Businesses and downtown employees and visitors also have complained about vagrants causing problems around their properties, including harassment, vandalism and drunkenness.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.