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Local News

Santa Barbara Council Approves New Panhandling Ordinance

It prohibits aggressive panhandling anytime, anywhere, and violators would face fines and jail time

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a new panhandling ordinance that seeks to prohibit aggressive panhandling and serve offenders with a hefty fine or possible jail time.

Attorney Steve Wiley presented the council with the new ordinance, which comes with significant challenges because of the First Amendment and free-speech implications of panhandling.

As background, Wiley told the council that the city adopted an aggressive solicitation ordinance in 1992. The ordinance makes it unlawful for any person to “intentionally coerce, threaten, hound or intimidate another person” to solicit money in a public place. Such actions could include anything to cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, or if the solicitor blocks the person’s path or persists in following the person while asking for money.

“In retrospect, I think that’s a little vague,” Wiley said, adding that only five citations had been issued in five years for that type of aggressive panhandling, a good indication that “the ordinance was not being effective.”

A subcommittee was formed to deal with homelessness and its relationship to the community and met on a regular basis to garner input from the public. One of the big issues brought up repeatedly was that of “aggressive panhandling,” he said.

The council endorsed a 12-point plan brought forth from that subcommittee in February. From February to June, Wiley worked with the Santa Barbara Police Department in conjunction with the ordinance committee to come up with language for the ordinance targeting the panhandling.

The ordinance approved Tuesday would prohibit abusive panhandling at any time, anywhere in the city. Wiley said that qualifies as someone blocking or impeding the movement of a person being pandhandled, following the person who has declined to make a donation, threatening by word or gesture, abusing with offensive language that could provoke a violent reaction, touching the person without consent, or engaging in active panhandling in specific areas.

Active panhandling is described as any verbal request for money or other item of value, and under the ordinance, would be regulated, not prohibited.

Active panhandlers sitting on benches no longer will be allowed on either side of State Street from the 400 block to the 1200 block, Milpas Street from the 00 south block and 200 north block, and Cabrillo Boulevard between Castillo and Milpas streets.

However, active panhandling will not be allowed in six scenarios: with anyone waiting at a bus stop, in a vehicle on a public street or alleyway; in a city parking lot or structure; in an outdoor dining area; within 25 feet of an ATM; in a queue of people waiting to gain entrance to a place of business or a vehicle; or waiting to purchase an item or an admission ticket.

Passive panhandling will not be regulated at all, an example of which would be someone sitting with a sign, not verbally.

The ordinance would leave open “ample opportunities for First Amendment rights” throughout the rest of the city, Wiley said.

The penalty for aggressive panhandling is now a misdemeanor instead of an infraction, and could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail. Before, the penalty was a $100 fine and no jail time.

“We feel like most people will comply once it’s on the books,” he said. “This gives us the ability to get a bench warrant issued if someone were to ignore the citation.”

The ordinance also was tied to the establishment of an “alternative giving campaign,” which would allow passersby to opt to give money in depositories located on the street, which would be put into a central fund to supplement street outreach or some other cause.

City staff have run into delays getting the devices approved through the Historic Landmarks Commission and also getting sponsorship from downtown businesses for the boxes, where the primary source of funding comes from. The city of Denver uses old parking meters to collect donations, an idea the commission “was not too fond of,” redevelopment supervisor Brian Bosse said, and suggested other alternatives be explored the city.

Staff members say they hope to have the campaign under way by the first of next year.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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