City Beat

Panhandlers must stay away from ATMs, medians and outdoor dining areas under city plan

Despite county law, panhandling remains widespread

Panhandling is widespread in Sacramento despite a 2014 law banning the practice at medians, intersections and other locations.
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Panhandling is widespread in Sacramento despite a 2014 law banning the practice at medians, intersections and other locations.

With the urging of central city business owners, hotel managers and restaurant operators, a Sacramento City Council committee revived an ordinance Tuesday aimed at cracking down on aggressive panhandling in the city.

Under an ordinance approved by the council’s Law and Legislation Committee, panhandling would be prohibited on roadway medians and within 30 feet of banks, ATMs and transit stops.

Aggressive solicitation also would be prohibited near outdoor dining areas at restaurants, on buses and light rail, and from people refueling cars at gas stations. People cited with two infractions for violating the ordinance within six months could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The ordinance will now go to the full City Council in the coming weeks for final approval.

The retooled ordinance does not include a provision originally proposed in August that would have prohibited panhandling within 200 feet of intersections. It also reduced the distance from ATMs, banks and transit stops that panhandling would be prohibited.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, said he hears “almost daily” from residents that they feel threatened by aggressive panhandlers.

“We want people to feel safe where they live, we want them to feel safe where they work,” Hansen said.

Several business representatives testified in support of the changes, providing the council committee with anecdotes of hotel visitors and downtown workers being harassed by aggressive panhandlers or transients.

Jim Perrin of the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel said a man walked into the downtown hotel lobby recently, dropped his pants and began shouting obscenities. Perrin also said an applicant for a job at the hotel withdrew from consideration after being “accosted” outside the J Street facility.

Other hoteliers said guests have been chased by panhandlers carrying sticks and that guests have told management they do not plan to return to Sacramento.

“We’ve seen a tremendous rise in aggressive and belligerent activity,” said Mike Testa, president and CEO of the Visit Sacramento tourism and convention agency.

There was little opposition to the proposed changes.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, called the ordinance changes “counterproductive” and “unconstitutional.”

“From a legal point of view, it appears that this moving forward would be open to a pretty substantial legal challenge,” he said. A city attorney said other cities have passed similar ordinances and that he was confident Sacramento’s ordinance would withstand a legal challenge.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis