Reining in aggresive panhandlers

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – A county ordinance that restricts “aggressive and intrusive solicitation,” including pushy requests for money, is on track for approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Mark Lovelace

Mark Lovelace

Support for the ordinance is not unanimous, however, as Board Chair Mark Lovelace has said the proposed law needs to be broadened to make it less applicable to specific groups of people.

The ordinance’s first reading was approved at the June 21 supervisors meeting and was set for adoption on June 28, after the Union went to press.

It seeks to address aggressive panhandling and other types of activity by “imposing reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on aggressive and intrusive solicitation while respecting the constitutional rights of free speech for all citizens,” according to an accompanying resolution.

Aggressive solicitation is defined in the resolution as “approaching or following pedestrians, the use of abusive language, unwanted physical contact or the intentional blocking of pedestrian vehicular traffic.”

Lovelace asked for wording changes to the ordinance, suggesting that the range of solicitations needs to be expanded to avoid the appearance of targeting panhandlers.

“Something like this provides a tool for enforcement and the reality is that enforcement will be selective,” he said, adding that the ordinance’s provisions should clearly extend beyond aggressive panhandlers who are “seeking money for themselves, immediately.”

Lovelace asked that a section of the draft ordinance covering “soliciting, asking or begging” include advertising as an additional activity.

He also asked that “indirect” solicitations be included in the law’s restrictions to cover aggressive requests that would benefit parties – such as businesses or religious groups – other than the people who are doing the actual solicitations.

Estelle Fennell

Estelle Fennell

But Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that the proposed ordinance is modeled after those that have been carefully approved in Eureka and Fortuna. Those cities have paid attention to legal challenges against similar ordinances in other parts of the state, she continued, with their ordinances providing a solid foundation for the county’s law.

“I think that we’re better off staying with tried and true language,” Fennell said, adding that “we’re making it clear that being aggressive is not what we want to see.”

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck said that “the general catch-all that’s being referred to is aggressive solicitation” and the ordinance covers all forms of soliciting without restricting content.

The ordinance also names specific places as being unfit for aggressive solicitation, including ATM  machines, banks and credit unions, check cashing businesses, gas station pumps, public places such as streets and sidewalks, and public transit vehicles.

Most supervisors opted for sticking with the ordinance’s language and not including Lovelace’s edits. Initial approval of the ordinance gained 4 to 1 support, with Lovelace dissenting.

If the law gets final approval next week, it will go into effect on Aug. 1.


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