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City of Alamosa to restrict ‘panhandling'

Posted: Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — Alamosa will soon be restricting “panhandling” in the city.

The city council this week passed on first reading and scheduled for a May 15 public hearing an ordinance regulating panhandling in the city limits.

The city has not had such an ordinance in the past.

Alamosa Police Chief/Interim City Manager Craig Dodd said the city staff and legal counsel drafted the ordinance in response to a request by Alamosa Councilor Greg Gillaspie. Typically such an ordinance focuses on public safety issues such as keeping pedestrians out of the roadway, Dodd explained.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said he worked with the police chief on the ordinance to balance the restriction of unwanted/unlawful behavior and the protection of people’s First Amendment rights to solicit. He said the proposed ordinance is based on a number of other similar ordinances in Colorado.

The proposed ordinance:

• defines panhandling as soliciting money or other items.

• prohibits aggressive panhandling in public places, with aggressive actions including unwanted physical contact, interference with pedestrian or vehicle access, continued solicitation of someone who already said no; and physical or verbal threats.

• prohibits panhandling: on private property where the owner has asked the person to leave or has clearly indicated solicitation is not welcome; within 100 feet of an automated teller machine; on public transportation or within 20 feet of a bus stop; public parking lot; within 6 feet of building entrances where the public has access; in a patio or sidewalk area of a retail business where food/beverages are served; in a public place at night; within 20 feet of a public restroom; of people waiting in line; within 100 feet of school grounds; or in the street, highway or entrance to a parking lot where the driver would have difficulty avoiding the panhandler.

“It is not the purpose of this section to prohibit lawful solicitation activity, but to regulate behaviors that contribute to the loss of access to and enjoyment of public places and an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation and disorder,” the ordinance states.

In addition to the panhandling ordinance, the city council this week approved on first reading and scheduled for a May 15 public hearing a related ordinance modifying an existing ordinance regulating door-to-door solicitation.

Schwiesow explained the city’s existing ordinance essentially banned door-to-door solicitation other than nonprofit groups such as Girl Scouts selling cookies. However, to balance First Amendment rights, the city cannot just ban solicitation, Schwiesow explained.

“We can’t say there is no solicitation in the city of Alamosa.”

The city can regulate it to the extent of prohibiting door-to-door solicitation of homes where “no solicitation” signs are posted, and that is what the ordinance amendment does.

The city could also establish a no-solicitation list similar to the no-call list, Schwiesow said, but he did not recommend it and the city council did not indicate it was interested in doing that since it would require a great deal of extra work on the part of city staff.

“I think that’s cumbersome and clumsy,” Schwiesow said.

Schwiesow added the proposed ordinance does not make a distinction between commercial and non-commercial solicitation but simply states that residences with “no solicitation” signs should be regarded as areas where no solicitation of any kind is welcome. He said the city could include a distinction in the ordinance but then residents would have to make that distinction whether they were fine with Girl Scouts selling cookies but not with vacuum salespeople, for example.

He indicated it would be cleaner to leave the ordinance as it is, with the provision that “no soliciting” signs should be respected by anyone who is soliciting for any purpose.

“The way the ordinance is currently proposed if someone puts up a ‘no soliciting’ sign, no solicitation of any nature would be allowed.”

Schwiesow added that the signs would not have to be expensive or elaborate, so residents who wanted to deter solicitation would not have to pay very much.

“They could have their kid do it in Crayon.”

He said if the city approves an ordinance prohibiting solicitation where signs are posted, those signs would have to respected, regardless.

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