Sacramento ordinance banned ‘aggressive panhandling.’ Now the law will be erased

The city of Sacramento is ditching its controversial ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” which a federal judge ordered the city to stop enforcing in July.

The ordinance, which the City Council adopted in November 2017, banned soliciting within 30 feet of banks or ATMs, driveways to businesses or near bus stops. Businesses and tourism groups asked for the ordinance.

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness and homeless activist James Lee “Faygo” Clark filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2017, represented by the ACLU of Northern California, claiming the ordinance violated free speech rights.

In July, a federal judge ordered an immediate halt on the enforcement of the ordinance.

The Sacramento City Council unanimously voted to approve deleting the ordinance at its meeting Tuesday night. However, city officials indicated a new ordinance is being drafted.

“The City Attorney’s Office acknowledges that there are some problematic issues in regard to the constitutionality of the existing panhandling ordinance and on those grounds has recommended to City Council to repeal the ordinance in its entirety rather than continue to pursue the matter in court,” City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said in a written statement. “The City Attorney’s Office already has begun to work with the City Manager’s Office to draft an ordinance that will serve to promote and preserve the interests of the community while protecting citizens’ constitutional rights. We expect to have a draft ready for review at the Council’s Law and Legislation committee in the near future.”

Wood said she expects the replacement ordinance to go to the committee later this year.

Clark said he was excited the city was set to get rid of the ordinance.

“It’s about time we get a solid win for the community, especially lately when there’s so many negatives happening, and so much shade being thrown toward people in poverty in Sacramento,” Clark said.

Although the ordinance only banned panhandling in certain areas, Clark said it covered most areas where people would go to solicit donations, like his spot outside the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op at 28th and R streets.

Clark has been getting odd jobs lately like yard work and cleaning houses, but panhandling is still his main source of income, he said.

“When you’re on the streets, sometimes you have to resort to panhandling,” Clark said. “It’s a nonviolent way to make money.”

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.