City Council got its first look at an ordinance that would ban all solicitation from the core downtown area at Monday’s informal City Council meeting.
The ordinance was drafted by City Attorney Chris Melcher after research into what limits could be placed on panhandling, which is a protected First Amendment form of speech. Based on other laws around the country that have passed legal scrutiny, Melcher proposed instituting the ban in the core downtown area, but excluding traditional places of public gathering like Acacia Park, City Hall, the courthouse, the Pioneers Museum, and the Penrose Library. To the dismay of west-side activists, Melcher has recommended against banning panhandling in the area west of 31st Street known as “No Man’s Land” because he believes extending the ban to other parts of the city would make the law vulnerable.
The panhandling ban was first proposed by the mayor’s Downtown Solutions Team. Council of Neighbors and Organizations president Dave Munger spoke on behalf of the Solutions Team, saying that even though the city already bans aggressive panhandling, shoppers and tourists are bothered by “persistent panhandling” and that downtown needs a “more comfortable” environment in order to thrive.
Councilors seemed largely satisfied with the ordinance, though several, including a vocal Bernie Herpin, wished the zone was larger. Many Councilors were especially concerned that the ban didn’t extend to Acacia Park.
Others, like Angela Dougan and Brandy Williams, questioned the need for a ban, saying aggressive panhandling was the real problem. And many pointed to what is seen as a root of the problem: People who give to panhandlers.
Commenting on that issue, Council President Scott Hente said, “If we really wanted to end it [panhandling], we could end it today.”
The public will have a chance to comment on the ordinance at the September 11 City Council meeting.
In the meantime, the people of No Man's Land are taking to the Web to record their displeasure with panhandlers and lawbreakers in their community. The complaints are being posted to www.facebook.com/theavenuecoloradosprings.