Bruce LeBel: Unconstitutional Panhandling Ordinance Cures Only Free Speech – September 8, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My answer to the question “Whose Arcata?” posed on the cover of last week’s North Coast Journal is this:

Arcata is everyone’s who is here, with our rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and with constraints in activities and behaviors defined by laws, regulations and zoning.  That these shared rights and constraints pit the preferences of one against the rights of another is a source of conflict engendered by some who are impatient or offended by others, as illustrated by Arcata’s reactionary panhandling ordinance.

The City will certainly lose the current lawsuit challenging the panhandling ordinance, as the geographic constraint on free speech by the ordinance is essentially total in the commercial area.

(A reminder of the foundation of civil rights that our society, including Arcata, is built on was provided by a Federal judge’s recent ruling in favor of a panhandler on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk in Manhattan.

There were already municipal ordinances that define aggressive panhandling as illegal, and the further elements of the new ordinance that address aggressive panhandling are not being challenged.

Although our respective individual economic positions, available time, health, energy and worldview give each of us our capabilities to engage in our chosen ways with our Arcata community, we all share our civil rights and share the responsibility to comply with applicable laws.

However, when a law attempts to erode our Constitutional foundation of civil rights, those who take a stand challenging the misguided ordinance are representing all of us, every one of us in Arcata, because other than the air there is nothing shared more commonly among all of us whose Arcata this is than our civil rights.

And yes, an increase in respectful behavior would be nice, but you can’t create that from the City Council dais, particularly when the council takes a position disrespecting our Bill of Rights.

Bruce LeBel is an Arcata resident.