The most striking disappointment about Tim Burgess's proposed civility law—adding a $50 fine for aggressive solicitation to an existing criminal statute for aggressive begging—is the waste of time it creates for the city government that could be spent making streets safer. City council staff and city attorneys have already spent at least a month drafting the bill, revising the bill, internally debating the bill, and then publicly debating the bill at a lengthy hearing this week. Amendments, debates, hearings, and meetings will drag for at least another month. Maybe more.

Is this really what people want the city working on? Does this solve the problem of uncomfortable downtown streets?

By Burgess's own admission, he doesn't expect this law to be enforced. He cites the city's aggressive begging law that's used, on average, 10 times a year, and an anti-solicitation bill in Tacoma that hasn't been used since it passed in 2007. "It is very rarely used," says Burgess. Why are they enforced so rarely? Either the laws don't apply to the problems—i.e., those people who are annoying when they ask for money aren't actually breaking any laws—or the laws act as a deterrent. This is the crux of the debate.

The real solution to making people feel* safe downtown—popular among cops, Burgess, and opponents of the civility bill—is more police on the street, more foot patrols, and more health and human services. Achieving those goals is challenging, considering the city's budget is running a massive deficit.

To say nothing of wasting resources on the bill's protracted development, this is a huge distraction from economic development that would actually raise enough money to pay more police, provide more services, and do all that stuff that addresses those safety issues—both real and perceived.

Instead of debating what appears to be a redundant, do-nothing bill, the city council could be focusing on bringing new businesses downtown. For example, the city has millions of square feet of empty office space in the central business district. If the city council were spending thousands of collective hours on filling those offices—and thereby filling some of the empty nearby condos, downtown restaurants, businesses, etc.—the city would generate stacks of more tax revenue. What does it take to woo a couple a large corporations with thousands of employees to Seattle (like Russel Investments that recently moved from Tacoma)? The council should spend its time figuring that out. (It's doubtful that a company's decisions are hinging on this civility law, particularly considering our downtown is already pretty clean.) Our council's brainpower and time is limited; they should invest it in strategies that generate revenue for increased police patrols, more police, human services and other strategies that everyone can agree would actually make streets afer.

* "How someone feels about whether they are is safe is a reality and a perception of what you have heard about an area," says civility-bill advocate George Allen, the senior vice president of government relations for the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. His group has long advocated such a bill, and so has the downtown Seattle Association. The bill is an example of Burgess, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, lining up support from the the moneyed interests who lost to Mike McGinn in the last election.