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Santa Cruz exports repression

The city of Chico could model an ordinance banning aggressive panhandling on one adopted by Santa Cruz in 1994.

Chico may ban so-called aggressive panhandling


By ARIEL COHN - Staff Writer
November 26, 2002

Some downtown Chico businesses are asking for a law to punish pushy
panhandlers who are driving away customers.
The city of Chico could model an ordinance banning aggressive
panhandling on one adopted by Santa Cruz in 1994. The issue is
expected to come up at the next City Council Internal Affairs Committee
Katrina Davis, executive director of the Downtown Chico Business
Association, said panhandlers who are “verbally threatening and
physically standing in someone’s way” are considered aggressive.
“We started receiving a lot of phone calls from business owners
expressing concern over panhandling issues,” Davis said. “It’s intimidating
to customers. Our business owners were concerned that customers were
avoiding coming downtown because they didn’t want to be approached.”
The Santa Cruz ordinance uses the euphemism “aggressive solicitation.”
“ ‘Solicitation’ means any verbal or non-verbal request made in person
seeking an immediate donation of money, food, cigarettes or items of
value,” according to the ordinance.
The Santa Cruz law puts limits on where and how panhandlers can ask for
donations. For instance, they must remain 14 feet away from buildings,
fences or crosswalks and 50 feet from banks, automatic teller machines
and vending machines. Panhandling in the parking lots of banks is
prohibited. The ordinance also prevents panhandling on public property
and on private property without the owner’s permission.
Panhandlers are required to stay three feet away from the person being
solicited, unless the person decides to make a donation. They can’t block
people’s paths, follow them or use “profane or abusive language.”
John Barisone, Santa Cruz’s city attorney, said the law is intended to
prevent intimidating situations, such as a group of people converging on
an individual to ask for money.
And the law prohibits lying about why the money is needed. For example,
saying one is from out of town and stranded, when it’s not true, would be
a violation. Or if someone says they are homeless when they’re not.
“We still have panhandling downtown but they know they have to obey
the rules,” Barisone said of Santa Cruz. “People can still ask for money,
they just have to do it in a certain way and in certain places.”
He said when the law first went into effect, some people got citations on
purpose in protest. But the ordinance has faced no challenges on First
Amendment issues like the freedoms of speech and assembly, he said.
“We haven’t had to issue many citations under the ordinance,” Barisone
Chico City Attorney Dave Frank said an ordinance could be crafted to
avoid violating the First Amendment.
“There is a distinction between passive panhandling, which is live and let
live, and aggressive panhandling, where your conduct starts to interfere
with others,” Frank said. “When does solicitation become more than ‘do
you want to deal with me?’ and become ‘you have to deal with me to
pass?’ “

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My hometown has an 'anti-aggressive panhandling' law, too. I bet most do.


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