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City Bars 'Aggressive Panhandling'

Solicitors will also be cited if within 10 feet of an intersection.

In hopes of curtailing aggressive panhandling and soliciting at intersections, the Martinez City Council has unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting both.

“We’ve seen a recent rise in instances where folks have been accosted as victims of begging, causing them to give out of fear for their personal safety,” Police Chief Gary Peterson said.

The new law forbids panhandlers from seeking donations within 10 feet of an intersection. The enforcement area encompasses downtown, the Intermodal and shopping centers on either side of Highway 4. Offenders will be charged with an infraction, cited and required to appear in court.

Peterson said he heard from representatives of Main Street Martinez, Amtrak staff and police, and Homeless Outreach along with individual business owners in researching the law.

 “This is not just a police problem,” he said.

But the question the council faces is one local bodies have always faced in seeking to restrict legal behavior: Where is the line? What constitutes aggressive panhandling?

Douglas Stewart, founder of Pacheco/Martinez Homeless Outreach, said aggressive panhandling intimidates and threatens: “following somebody, blocking somebody’s path, standing close to an ATM.”

The ordinance is one part of a program that includes a public awareness campaign urging residents to donate to social service organizations and not individuals.

“When people give (panhandlers) enough to stay on the street, that’s all it does,” Stewart said.

“I think a lot of people want to help, they just don’t know what to do,” said Councilwoman Janet Kennedy. “Also, when the message gets out that Martinez isn’t going to put up with it anymore, people move on.”

The council has been careful to craft a law that jibes with the state Constitution and the First Amendment, Mayor Rob Schroder said. Similar laws -- and they are on the rise around the country -- have not always survived legal challenges.

Between 2009 and 2011, bans on begging increased by 7 percent, according to a 188-city survey by the National Law Center of Homelessness on Poverty.

Courts have struck down such prohibitions as infringement on free speech in Salt Lake City, Utah, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Arcata, Calif. In a similar case that sought to restrict day laborers from soliciting for work, the court said the men enjoy the same rights as Girl Scouts who approach passersby to buy boxes of cookies.

The laws often have their root in merchant complaints, as do sit/lie laws, which have also fared poorly in the courts. Berkeley voters recently rejected a sit/lie law, designed to limit aggressive panhandling in downtown commercial stretches.

Here, as elsewhere, many panhandlers are in crisis, but not necessarily homeless. In Martinez, as many as half are not homeless at all – just poor, and don’t make enough money to pay light bills or buy groceries, Stewart said.

Poor, homeless or both can access services by calling 211, he said.

Clearly, frustration is rising with those who decline services, "whether they don't like the rules, find a waiting list, or don't have the life skills to fill out a Social Security form," Stewart said.

“These people are bullies,” said resident Mike Alford. “They guys hang out at the wall, urinating – I’ve seen women urinating out there, carrying plastic bags with a bottle in it.”

When Nob Hill Market installed “No Loitering” signs, people stopped congregating in the lot, he said.

“You’ve got to put the heat on them,” he said.

Developer Larry Lippow praised the council for its willingness “to confront this matter.

“Martinez will be a better place for it,” he said.

Chris J Kapsalis November 21, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I was the victim of a mugging in Toronto that led to a violent fight. He did not get my wallet, but it was traumatic. It has made me a little on hyper sensitive I would say about aggressive panhandlers and are they gong to pull out a gun or grab me again and will I have to fight? So when a guy would not take no for an answer at an ATM machine downtown at my $300 came out, and me and my wife stood there, and he was in our space, again would not leave and I was very close to taking my best shot in defense of us and our money. He could see we had money and still would not quit asking. We decided to call mpd and they caught him, but only for drunk in public. His was aggressive panhandling, and at an ATM machine. I saw what amounted to a mugging in front of a popular music club downtown once. He was an elderly man and was bullied to take out his wallet and give him money. He was in fear and ashamed by it. I wanted to get involved and stop it but instead called the police. On a side note, Some 911 operators are extremely rude. I have no clue what their problem is but seem to have a bad attitude problem, the ones I have talked to recently. What is up with that? They need to be much more professional. I would like the last call I had to make to 911 to be listened to and reviewed and that woman retrained. She was unbelievably rude to me and insulting. And I was trying to get a man help who's life was in danger. I am very relunctant to call 911 now. Unacceptable.
Dave Thomas November 21, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Chris and Mike I can not disagree than a panhandler could be anoying. I have been asked while downtown several times and either ignored them or said no. I need need to point out the use of the word AGRESSIVE AND the concept of within 10 feet of an intersection. The ordinance allows PASSIVE panhandling but freedom of speech does not involve your location. Our City Attorney apparently disagrees but that is to his advantage as he makes more money of he gets the city into a lawsuit.. The biggest problem is that a police officer may not arrest someone for a misdomeanor not committed in his presence thus call all day and complain with nothing changing. A citizen must file a complaint with the District Attorney's Office That is just how California law has been written thus we should obey the legal preceedure instead of trying to go around the law. What will be done is that anyone who panhandles will be hassled thus the ordinance will sorta work but if the courts have already stated such laws are illegal some smart person will challenge the city law and expense the city a few hundred thousand dollars which we do not have. I doubt there is a solution unless maybe we test our tasers on them. That would be legal and effective if that last video is "city policy" 132,000 YOUTUBE hits. AM I THE ONLY ONE EMBARASSED? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFG-aQyOQG0&feature=youtu.be Why are we allowing PASSIVE panhandling? .
cynthia November 21, 2012 at 06:16 PM
A couple years ago I felt so bad for these people that were homeless waiting on the intersections. So much so that I had bags prepared with food,drinks, and snacks. Everytime I saw one if the people holding a sign, I would stop and I give them the food. One day I had to go back to the intersection when running errands. The panhandlers had already called it a day. What I saw was very frustrating. All of my food was still there on the corner in their bags. Big lesson to me. I realized that the people don't need food they just want money for drugs.
MIKE ALFORD November 22, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Well -- what i said was a PAPER BAG ----Not a Plastic Bag ? And this is probley one of the first times that I will Agree with Chris all the way with what he wrote ! See the oeople that have never been around the violent side of this issue are the ones that have absoultly no idea of what its like to be confrontented like Chris was ! its dam scarey ---- And its too late to just say would you just leave me alone for a moment while I use my cell phone to call the police ! Oh yea that will work of coarse it will (Ha Right ) --- Yes and the marina is going to be fixed this year,the checks in the mail Oh yes and you can trust the city counsel to listen to each and every citizen also there is no unemployment and everyone is going to live happely ever after ! what world are you living in ? Wake up !
Shari Day Post November 22, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Good Morning Cynthia.... I'm so glad you posted this.... Back in the 80's while working in San Francisco I had a very similar incident... it absolutely broke my heart. A mother and her little girl were sitting on the street, I went into McD's and bought each a breakfast... and the mother threw the food back at me and said "we don't need your food, we need your money"... I will always remember the look on that childs face...
Withmar November 23, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Don't let them see you call. People have be threatened and beaten for calling and reporting on bumb fights in the past.
MIKE ALFORD November 23, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Now how can you say that ? After all you should all feel safe because the chief has already said that this is NOT a police problem ! (Not a police problem) now how does that work a panhander stands brhind you at a ATM gets in your face demands money or look at the train station what wonderfull welcoming group to represent Martinez when people get off the train,and if your brave enough well you can just imagine what is going on through their minds as they walk by them !! and I cant beleive that anyone Would say ITS Not A POLICE problem ? What in the hell is wrong here ??? Whos Job is it To Protect Citizens ? WAKE UP ! ---- If you people think its so safe take your wife,kids,girl friends for a walk by them then tell me if this repersents the best Martinez has to offer its citizens or visitors ! You ite probley just as well that I didnt get elected ! Because No Way In Hell would I Have Put up With This Kind Of Behavior as an elected public servent !
Hope Savage November 23, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Interesting that they are only now interested in addressing this problem, since Redevelopment (RDA) is off the table. Until then, they needed those street people to create a presence of "blight", which is a requirement to get an RDA. While they were staking everything on getting a RDA, they didn't seem to think it was a problem that needed to be addressed.
Robinson Crusoe November 23, 2012 at 04:46 PM
@Mike Alford. I can say for sure that they are a lot more compassionate and understanding then you and I would rather spend an hour with a nice dirty person then a person in nice cloths that doesnt care about people who dont even have a place to sleep. How inconsiderate has this world become?
MIKE ALFORD November 26, 2012 at 08:11 AM
First of all what are you afread of ? use your real name ! secound of all this thread is about ---- Now listen very carefully --- I will go slower for you so you can keep up --- this thread is about Aggressive ----- Panhandeling ---- Am I going to fast for you ? You seem to really get into ---- The word Dirty Person or People -- does this excite you or something ? Stick to the Issue & come out of the closet and use your real name ! this has nothing to do with what this thread is about ! If you want to make this personal --- than take it off PATCH -- CALL ME -- but I Wont Respond To Someone Calling Themself Robinson Crusoe It Sort Of Sounds Dirty !
Jed November 27, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Whatever happened to cities giving bums THE BUMS RUSH out of town? They do nothing but dirty a town - even dirty towns.
MIKE ALFORD November 27, 2012 at 06:07 AM
JED ----- What You Have Just Said Makes All The Sense & Its Comman Sense ! You know I grew up here in Martinez there used to be what they called HoBo Jungle it was down right across from the train Switching station Sometimes there would be over 100 of them living in tents and make shift lean-to and they were there way before I was born ---- they would come and go year round if the cannery was canning whatever tomatoes,apercots,peaches they would sometimes take part time jobs ----- BUT they would NEVER wonder around inside the city limets (Never) they never caused a problem -- never walked up or down our streets ! See the police,the busness owners and the people in our city had Pride in our city also none of us would put up with any B.S. Thats just the way it was And you know What PEOPLE were safe ! And that WORKED ! Also to the HoBos Credit They Knew The Rules and they went along With The RULES ! And we all got along !---- And We Were SAFE ! walking the streets --- And to the peoples Credit that lived in Martinez There would be people that would Drop of food & chothes,blankets ------ See We Knew how to servive and protect each other and not like this B.S, That their trying to shove in our face NOW --- Your Right In What You Say ---- 100% RIGHT !
Gary Etscheid November 27, 2012 at 02:39 PM
This is the reason I stopped going to downtown and the Marina. Unfortunate. I also do not call 911 for the same reasons, so can empathize with you. Sorry about your experiences. Thanks for trying to help also.
Chris J Kapsalis November 27, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I am going to city council and I want my call to 911 listened to by who ever over see's them. She was incredibly rude to me and hostile. Even yelling at me. I had to call back three times. And I was trying to help a man passed out in the street. When the police arrived their lights went right on me and started in on me. You could hear the man as he had crawled off toward the creek. I said , "Over there, can;t you hear them?" They seemed more interested in me and what that Blank 911 woman told them about me I guess. But the recording will show I was patient with her and she was hostile and confrontational and has No business being a 911 dispatcher imo. The recording will show I am telling the truth. I want her retrained or fired. ASAP. I may go to a city council meeting. Whoever she was, I dread the thought of others being afraid to call for help for someone or themselves and have the misfortune of getting her on the line. I would be very reluctant to call 911 for any reason now. She needs to be replaced. Yes she is under pressure, stress, so was I, and she needed to be professional, and was not. How she treated me when I was trying to help save a life possibly is inexcusable.
MIKE ALFORD November 27, 2012 at 07:58 PM
You know I think that this thread is one of the most important issues that I have seen on Patch Really Look At the people that have respondedto it ! very seldom have the people that have disagreed on other issues have come together with the same concerns and the same fears for fellow citizens of Martinez as well as for our own personal safety and maybe Im learning more about listening AS Should our city counsel & Chief Of police ! and its about TIME that we make some changes MAKE Martinez a City that You Can all walk down our city streets & the Marina without the threat of Violance or Harm.
Chris J Kapsalis November 27, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Cops walking the beat up and around MAin St would be a great diea imo. They detour crime by being seen, see crime, get to know the people, people can talk to them and get to know them, and most of all make it safer. Yes it is a big city and we have limitied resources. But cops can be called from anywhere and respond as quick with their car a block or two away. But there are bycycle cops that work great in other cities, also paperwork can be done in cars parked around. My point is people, want to see police to feel safer,because they are, unless they are up to no good. And then they do not want to see police around. So where do you thnk people will go who would be up to no good with police walking the beat downtown, not there thats for sure.

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