The city of Santa Maria is one step away from having a policy against aggressive panhandling, focused primarily on solicitors frequenting ATMs, banks, dark parking lots and other spots where residents feel most vulnerable.
The Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would create the city’s first-ever policy regulating aggressive solicitation, defined as a person who asks for money, etc., while intentionally or recklessly touching someone or an occupied vehicle without consent.
Asking for funds after someone declines, blocking a person’s path, or using intimidating words or obscenities also fit the designation, the policy states.
The policy is scheduled to go back before the City Council for final approval on June 17 and would take effect 30 days later, City Manager Rick Haydon said.
According to city staff, Santa Maria police responded to 137 calls related to panhandling from March 2013 to March 2014.
Haydon said aggressive panhandling has recently increased since Lompoc and San Luis Obispo passed similar ordinances.
He said residents raised concerns, so the City Attorney’s Office researched and drafted an ordinance following the lead of neighboring cities — including a special effort in San Luis Obispo to turn old parking meters into “donation meters” for the homeless.
Because Santa Maria has no parking meters, Haydon said, the city will order and then strategically place meters where residents can donate change to the services already designed to prevent unnecessary panhandling.
The ordinance doesn’t ban all solicitations — since they have a constitutional right to free speech — but attempts to limit them, Haydon said.
According to the new policy, aggressive solicitations are prohibited within 25 feet of an enclosed ATM, an entrance or exit to an ATM facility, bank, credit union or bus stop after dark.
That type of panhandling will also be banned from parking garages or structures without the permission of a property owner or manager, in public transportation vehicles, in public restrooms or within 6 feet of any vehicular entrance or exit.
Violators would pay a $100 fine for a first infraction, $200 for a second offense and conviction within one year and $500 for each additional violation, according to city staff.
Local nonprofits provide shelter and food for homeless, Haydon said, so those still panhandling are either trying to finance addictions — shelter help is sobriety-based — or supplementing their income.
“The city intends to work with property owners in some of our commercial centers to strategically place, within the centers, some donation meters,” Haydon said, noting donation meters could be seen as early as July. “It’s more of an education to let the public know that if they do want to make a difference, they really need to give to the services that provide for the homeless.”