We asked Sounding Board members about panhandling -- specifically, what they thought about a proposed city ordinance supported by downtown business owners that would make it illegal to "solicit in an aggressive manner in any public place." This isn't just about people asking for spare change, however, as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army bell-ringers and other similar groups also could fall under this proposed crackdown on solicitation. Language banning "false solicitation" (saying you need money for gas, but it's really for another purpose) and solicitation on public vehicles (like buses) also would be included in the proposed ordinance. Panhandling near banks and ATMs or in parking lots would be forbidden. The infraction would be a misdemeanor.
The Bakersfield City Council will conduct its first reading of the ordinance at a March 5 meeting. If the council approves the ordinance at the second reading March 19, the ordinance could become law by the end of that month.
Here are some responses:
If the proposed panhandling ordinance includes prohibiting Girl Scout cookie sales, Salvation Army bell-ringers and other similar solicitations, the city of Bakersfield could just as well skip it.
If the city writes a sensible ordinance prohibiting panhandling (aggressively approaching strangers asking for money for food, gasoline, transportation, a job, etc.), it would be a good idea -- and a good service to the community. Beggars appear daily on street corners and in parking lots. If beggars are told to leave and they refuse, the police or on-site security should be called. Girl Scout cookie sales occur once a year, as does the Salvation Army bell-ringing. There is a huge difference between cookie sales and signs saying "Need money to feed my family."
Aggressive solicitations are upsetting and a bit frightening to the average shopper and driver. A fine wouldn't do any good. Supposedly, they don't have any money (but I would love to see their piggy banks at home). It will take time, research and a huge dose of common sense to do this right. I am sure the American Civil Liberties Union will weigh in, the beggars will "organize," and an attorney will defend them, so maybe we should leave it as it is and simply refuse to respond to the "illegal" solicitations. The Thin Mints are my favorite Girl Scout cookies, and I will continue to buy them and support those ambitious young women. I like the lemon ones, too.
Caroline O. Reid of Bakersfield is a retired executive assistant.
Despite all the hoopla about how wonderful downtown Bakersfield is, the reality doesn't live up to it. It certainly isn't pedestrian friendly, and the people lounging about, seemingly without purpose, are not reassuring for one's safety. Further, I'd like to say that I have never been accosted anywhere by a threatening Girl Scout, Salvation Army bell-ringer, or VFW poppy seller. In fact, the thought makes me laugh! Surely this is a joke.
I'd like to see an ordinance that prohibits aggressive panhandling, including touching and/or blocking the path of a pedestrian when seeking money. It makes no difference to me what the money is supposed to be used for. There's no excuse. This problem has been going on for years in large cities, and now it has come to ours. Let's do something about it now.
Donna Ozenne of Bakersfield is a retired registered nurse.
As a community member involved in different charities, no one can accuse me of not being a giving person. However, I loathe dealing with people begging for money outside businesses. The Californian quoted a local panhandler saying, "As long as you're not aggressively panhandling somebody, what harm are you doing standing there?" I'll tell the harm. While looking for a parking space, I saw a panhandler and left and went to another store. The harm was loss of sales to the store.
Panhandlers standing outside a fast food joint slow me down when I have to hear their sob story. If someone really needs food, this city has so many locations that provide hot meals free of charge. Somehow, we must connect people begging for food money with food.
Our city attorney is worried about the rights of panhandlers. What about the rights of property owners? Should I not have the right to insist someone leave my property to protect my business?
People panhandling may not have a permanent address, and issuing a citation creates work and expense. The ticket winds its way through court and eventually turns into a warrant, and more expense is incurred. Do we really want to pay for the cost of food, jail clothes and possibly even medical services simply because someone was panhandling? An ordinance is not the solution.
Jim A. Luff is the general manager of a transportation company.
The proposed panhandling ordinance causes me to think of the presently controversial "Stand-your-ground" law currently in much contention in Florida. Who gets to decide whether a particular act of solicitation was in an "aggressive manner"? My experience in Bakersfield over the last six years suggests to me that most panhandlers are courteous and respectful.
Those who are not need to be taken to a mental facility rather than arrested and fined, which does little to deter them. The trouble is that out-patient facilities were pretty much "zeroed out" in the budget process by Sacramento politicians some decades ago, but that's just another shameful story.
Gerald Sutliff of Bakersfield is retired from a career in labor relations.
There seems to be far more solicitations from people in need than ever. Representing a cross section of society, seemingly able-bodied men and women are hitting the streets asking for handouts. There are always the homeless, disabled and mentally challenged. But now there are unemployed, veterans, old and young, women and men. Whole families with children, often with their dog, are holding short, hand-scrawled, cryptic signs asking for help.
Federal, state and local programs provide the "safety net" for basic food and shelter. Their panhandling supplements acquiring alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Done a certain way, this system provides disincentives to seek low-wage work. A whole untaxed underground economy exists.
Churches and other outreach entities step in as first responders to poverty. It will be hard to enforce the new regulations. Officials have little time to devote, with far more dangerous crimes to pursue. Good luck collecting the fines levied on the offending poor.
Rich Partain is a retired Bakersfield College professor.
When planting a garden, one works hard to have the good plants survive and the weeds dug out and thrown away. The same goes with making city ordinances. No one likes to cross a parking lot or attempt to enter a building by first dealing with panhandlers of all kinds. They are usually scruffy and unclean looking and use fear as a means to get money. Most of us have been victims of these people. The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army bell-ringers get permission to set up shop outside a store, and their donations go to good causes. It is much safer for youngsters and bell-ringers to set up shop outside a market or business than go door to door.
A city ordinance would go a long ways to help law enforcement deal with those who are, frankly, a pain in the neck for all. There is no reason that a city ordinance could not be written that would save the good plants (the Scouts and bell ringers) and throw out the weeds (the panhandlers).
Irene Edmonds of Bakersfield is retired.