Following a significant uptick in aggressive panhandling during the past two years, the Grover Beach City Council is weighing whether to adopt an ordinance that would prohibit aggressive solicitation within the city.
During the council’s Dec. 15 meeting, the proposed ordinance—drafted by Police Chief Jim Copsey and City Attorney Martin Koczanowicz—was introduced and read for the first time.
“Aggressive panhandling unquestionably threatens public safety and welfare, and it undermines the public’s right to enjoy public places without being accosted,” Copsey said in support of the ordinance. “It creates a climate of intimidation and anxiety.”
Ultimately, the council unanimously voted to continue the discussion about the ordinance to its Jan. 20 meeting, giving city staff time to address questions about the ordinance.
As Koczanowicz explained, panhandling restrictions are tricky to draft, and their legality is often challenged in court, since it’s illegal to infringe upon the constitutionally protected right to solicit donations.
“Speaking for people who fly their signs, honestly, we’re out there just trying to make a little bit of money, just trying to get by,” Grover Beach resident Paul Peterson, who currently lives in his van, said at the Dec. 15 meeting. “We’re not all out there just trying to be bums, and we’re not all out there trying to, you know, get drunk or get high or whatever.”
As drafted, the ordinance would prohibit any aggressive solicitation that involves touching or following a person, asking repeatedly for donations after someone’s said no, and blocking someone’s way, among other qualifiers.
Aggressive panhandling would be banned in certain locations as well, including within 15 feet of an unenclosed ATM, a public restroom, a highway median, a bus stop, or driveways leading to businesses—among other restrictions.
“I think this is pretty well-written, not too restrictive and not too undefined,” said Councilwoman Barbara Nicolls. “I don’t have a problem with it.”
However, other council members raised questions about whether passively holding signs is considered panhandling, about the potential for panhandling-free zones, and about whether the city could prohibit panhandling within a certain distance from all business entrances.
The council discussion on the matter will continue at its Jan. 20 meeting, at which time the ordinance could potentially be adopted.