On Tuesday, Santa Barbara's Ordinance Committee discussed changes to the city's code to further crack down on panhandling and make Lower State Street a more approachable place for visitors.
The city's code defines several types of panhandling, including passive panhandling, which could include holding a sign asking for money while not verbally calling out, as well as active panhandling, which would include someone asking another person directly for money or other items of value.
Active panhandling is prohibited by ordinance in certain areas of the city currently, like at bus stops or in lines of people waiting to get into a movie theater or other business.
The city has been working to expand those rules, however, in response to complaints that people have been panhandling in an abusive way, with threatening language or even assaulting the passersby.
Prohibiting active panhandling within 80 feet of someone accessing an ATM — instead of 25, which is currently on the books — was one topic of discussion, as well as broader topics not necessarily linked to panhandling, like people camping out on benches downtown for hours at a time.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne will be researching some issues further, like how much of a "bubble" the city could place between panhandlers and people in outdoor dining areas or people waiting in line to gain admission to a business.
Calonne will prepare draft ordinance amendments and bring them to the City Council for discussion and approval at a future meeting.
The city already has an ordinance against aggressive panhandling but certain parts of the city code, like forbidding people to publicly urinate and defecate, need to be clarified, said Capt. David Whitham of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
Those cases are handled as infractions and citations, since the offenses fall under a general littering prohibition, but the police department has asked the City Attorney to define the offenses more specifically.
Committee member Frank Hotchkiss said that "conduct is what we're after, not specific populations," adding that the city isn't specifically targeting the homeless, but anyone who uses threatening language to others while downtown.
Eventually, visitors won't come downtown if the city doesn't take action, he said.
Whitham said he would support expanding the 25-foot "bubble" to 80 feet, saying an ATM area is a vulnerable open-air place where large amounts of cash are being handed off.
Calonne will also be looking at whether to extend the city's sit/lie ordinance, which prohibits people from sitting or lying in the first 13 blocks of State Street or any of the adjoining paseos between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
The city may decide to expand that to 2 a.m. because many bars close around that time, but that will be up for discussion. The city cannot enforce overnight camping laws unless there is unused shelter space available, which could also limit how late the laws could go.
Also up for discussion were people who display items they are trying to sell on the city's sidewalk and benches. People trying to sell things laid out on the sidewalk are prohibited from doing so, but are allowed to sit on benches with their things. A business license is required for people selling items, however.
There is no limit to the amount of time a person can sit on a bench. Even though the city could come up with a time limit, "enforcement would be challenging," Calonne said.
Committee member Cathy Murillo said she didn't have a problem with people sitting on benches with their belongings as long as they weren't a nuisance to other people.
The Central Library plaza was also discussed, and library director Irene Macias said her staff calls the police frequently to deal with troublesome individuals.
Smoking near the doorways and inappropriate comments are some of the biggest complaints, she said, though the library staff works closely with the police department to deal with some of the criminal activity that occurs nearby.