POPE’S VIEW: Panhandling solution could be coming soon
Feb 28 at 10:08 AM
Posted Mar 3, 2018 at 2:01 AM
St. Augustine Record
Panhandling is a job in downtown St. Augustine.
I know. I shop there, worship there, dine in the fine eateries, and am a member of an organization that manages a city-owned historic place in the middle of Panhandling Ground Zero: St. George Street between Cathedral Place and Treasury Street.
They arrive very early in the morning and set up their “offices” on benches on tourist-mecca St. George Street. Their co-workers arrive, stash their stuff, put on their signs, too.
They know the rules. They are not allowed to ask for money, verbally, by law. They hang signs around their necks and then watch for any opportunity to catch the eye of someone walking by. They say, “hello, and hope passers-by respond. Some do.
So much for city officials, businesses and tourism leaders telling visitors not to give “them” money.
I watched Livestreaming of the City Commission meeting on Feb. 26 where attorney and city consultant Michael Kahn presented the proposed panhandling rules that he has been working on at the city’s request. Photos offered as examples of very bad behaviors were like a documentary movie.
We got to this point because of a City Commission decision in 2016 that ended enforcement of most of our panhandling rules. That was after the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa, ruled panhandling is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
This proposed ordinance’s distance regulations are precise. You can read them at http://www.staugustine.com/news/20180222/new-regulations-readied-to-address-panhandling.
They’re a good start. Enforcement is the key. For example, limiting where panhandlers can stand on St. George Street in relation to businesses within 20 feet of an entrance or exit, leave a tight space. The width of St. George Street at Treasury, is around 25 feet, according to Paul Williamson, city public affairs officer. He conferred with Todd Grant of the city’s public works for this measurement. “And that is about as good as it gets,” Williamson said. The street gets narrower for a while and then around the Colonial Quarter, is about 25 feet again, Williamson said.
We already have rules against panhandling within 20 feet of ATMS, city parking meters and parking pay stations.
New restrictions would be applied, if the ordinance is adopted, prohibiting panhandling and solicitation within 20 feet of a business’s entrance or exit, a government-operated restroom, city parking lots or the city parking garage. Another new rule will prohibit panhandling within 100 feet of a school.
On March 26, the City Commission will hold a public hearing for the second reading of the ordinance. Regardless of what side you’re on, that is the time to let the City Commission know.
If you want to see the action in person, come well before the 5 p.m. meeting start to get a seat. If you want to hear it but not get caught up in the crowd, then watch the Livestreaming as I did last month. Just go to www.citystaug.com and look for the Livestreaming link on the home page. Another option is to contact City Commissioners with your views before the meeting.
Either way, speak up and speak out.
Margo C. Pope was associated with The St. Augustine Record for 24 years, retiring in 2012 as The Record’s editorial page editor.