Lawsuit Targets Arcata Panhandling Law – May 25, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

ARCATA – Having declined to strike aspects of its panhandling ordinance, the City of Arcata will have to defend itself against a lawsuit from a well-known political consultant.

Arcata resident Richard Salzman, who has helped coordinate the campaigns of District Attorney Paul Gallegos and several other liberal candidates, announced his filing of the lawsuit on May 19. It attacks the ordinance’s prohibitions against spoken and written requests for handouts, arguing that they’re unconstitutional.

The complaint, filed by Salzman’s attorney, Peter Martin, states that the ordinance’s ban on panhandling signage and comments “places an impermissible burden on the free speech rights of citizens in a public forum” and “presents an unacceptable risk of chilling and/or suppressing protected speech.”

Salzman is asking the court for an injunction on enforcing the ordinance, a declaration that it’s unconstitutional and recovery of costs involved with filing the lawsuit.

The ordinance’s prohibition of aggressive panhandling isn’t being challenged in the lawsuit.

In a press release, Salzman alleged that the City is violating basic civil rights and targeting the poor. “If first they silence the poor and the homeless, and I say nothing, who will speak up when they try to silence me?” he asked.

The City Council approved the ordinance last year but Arcata Mayor Susan Ornelas and Councilmember Shane Brinton voted against it. The council recently voted not to amend the ordinance, with Brinton casting a lone dissent vote.

In addition to banning aggressive panhandling and solicitations, the ordinance prohibits begging within 20 feet of businesses, parking lots, banks with automatic teller machines, bus stops, foot bridges and intersections.

Its findings section states that other city laws have failed to have an effect on a situation that has “generated an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation and disorder, and has caused many retail customers to avoid shopping or dining within the City.”

In an interview last February, when Salzman notified the City of his intent to sue, City Attorney Nancy Diamond said the ordinance is modeled after what’s been done elsewhere in the state and country, and what’s been tested in court.

“We are not the first community to look at panhandling ordinances,” she said. “This is very widespread and there is a fair amount of judicial law we were able to look at … we weren’t acting in a vacuum.”







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4 Responses to “Lawsuit Targets Arcata Panhandling Law – May 25, 2011”

  1. The key to this law being legal is going to be whether people are given ample space to panhandle outside of the restricted zones. I would love to see a map with the areas that prohibit begging in red, and the areas where begging is permitted in green. From what I can piece together it seems that 85% to 95% of the downtown are begging restricted. That is not ample “alternative space.”

    Justice Kennard wrote in a unanimous decision that the public areas of LAX “are similar to shopping malls and railway stations,” but that “time, place, and manner restrictions on expressive activities in public forums are valid,” and “activities…that interfere with the legitimate interests of the airport management, arriving or departing passengers…need not be tolerated.”

    Now the same could be said of the areas around ATM’s but on the street outside a retail store?
    As a pedicab operator I solicit money for rides on the streets, is that begging?
    Is that tolerated because I have license from the city?
    What about the girl scouts that sat on the corner of the Plaza during the cookie drive?
    What about the kids that hold car washes in the Outdoor Store parking lot?

    I also see a LOT of folding sandwich board signs on the sidewalks here in town, Arcata land use code:
    9.38.060 Prohibited Signs
    (J.) A sign placed within a public right-of-way, except as provided by Subsection 9.38.070.D;
    9.38.070 General Requirements for All Signs
    D. Signs placed within the public right-of-way.

    1. No sign shall be allowed in the public right-of-way except for:

    a. Public signs erected by or on behalf of a governmental agency to convey public information, identify public property, post legal notices, or direct or regulate pedestrian or vehicular traffic;

    b. Bus stop signs installed by a public transit company;

    c. Informational signs of a public utility regarding lines, pipes, poles, or other facilities; or

    d. Emergency warning signs installed by a governmental agency, a public utility company, or a contractor doing authorized work within the public right-of-way.

    2. Any sign installed or placed within the public right-of-way other than in compliance with this Section shall be forfeited to the public and be subject to confiscation.

    3. In addition to other remedies identified in Chapter 9.96 (Enforcement and Penalties), the City shall have the right to recover from the owner, or person placing the sign, the full costs related to the removal and disposal of the sign.

    Now would someone (the police) please confiscate these signs, I am sick of having to push my baby stroller into the street to get around that freaking Catalyst church sign they put on the sidewalk every weekend.

  2. You’re right Mark, there are other signs including the one I’m standing next to here:

  3. Matt Horns

    From what little I know about Constitutional law, it seems obvious that this law will easily be voided by the courts.

  4. Robert Benson

    Oh, that was good. Thank you.

    Would it not be more expedient to challenge the validity of the law on the Brown Act’s ground that Alex Stillman, by law, should have recused herself from voting due to the appearance of a conflict of financial interest in downtown properties? The vote was three to two with the allegedly illegal Stillman vote, without it, it would have been two to two, which, I believe, is not sufficient. Someone, please, correct me if I am wrong, here. I asserted this argument before the council on the night the ordinance was voted on (see video, the public comment part at the end) and other times on the Eye’s comment forums and I have never been rebutted.


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