Archive for Wednesday, December 16, 2009

City pans panhandling licenses

City commissioners said Tuesday they are not interesting in requiring a license for people to ask for donations in downtown Lawrence. To help ensure no problems arise, there will most likely be an increase in the area's foot patrols.

December 16, 2009

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A plan to require people to obtain a license in order to verbally panhandle in downtown Lawrence gained no traction with city commissioners Tuesday night.

Instead, a majority of commissioners said they would rather give new downtown foot patrols by police officers more time to work, and also said they would consider authorizing plainclothes police officers to patrol the area in an attempt to catch aggressive panhandlers in the act.

“We can probably write whatever regulations and pass whatever regulations, but if we don’t have the enforcement, it won’t mean much,” Commissioner Lance Johnson said. “The increased foot patrols have helped but we’re going to have to keep looking at this, and it may be that we’re going to have to look at providing more resources.”

The idea of plainclothes police officers has been brought up multiple times by downtown merchants as a way to address the problem of catching panhandlers in the act of violating the city’s current aggressive panhandling ordinance — which makes it illegal to repeatedly ask for a donation, to touch an individual or to panhandle near ATMs.

Commissioners did not order City Manager David Corliss to immediately begin plainclothes patrols, but rather told Corliss to discuss police staffing options with Police Chief Ron Olin. The idea of a citizens patrol that would educate shoppers and panhandlers alike of the city’s laws on panhandling also was suggested.

But what was not recommended was a complete ban on downtown panhandling, which was proposed by City Commissioner Aron Cromwell earlier this year. Attorneys for the city said a ban likely would be found unconstitutional.

Instead, city staff presented a proposal that would have made it illegal to verbally ask for donations downtown, unless a person received a city-issued license. The license, however, would be free and there would be few reasons the city could legitimately use to reject a license application.

The proposal ended up drawing legal concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, and was largely a nonstarter for commissioners.

The proposal also brought out more than a dozen opponents, and even sparked a trio of concerned street musicians to perform in the lobby of City Hall prior to the meeting.

Commissioners heard several concerns that new panhandling regulations would tread on people’s First Amendment rights of free speech.

“I have the right to ask for help in this country,” said Amy Curtis, a Lawrence resident. “But I also have the right to say no to people asking for help. I can say no all by myself. I don’t need the city’s help to do that.”

But several downtown merchants also told commissioners they were concerned the panhandling issue was causing many shoppers and tourists to avoid downtown.

“If enforcement doesn’t increase, if some other mechanism doesn’t emerge, I can see downtown becoming overrun,” said Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, 804 Mass. “I think this summer it will be a free-for-all. People won’t call the police. They just won’t come back to downtown.”

Commissioners also said they wanted to explore creating a public education campaign about why it is important for residents to report aggressive panhandling when they see it, and also about how a better way to help the poor is to give money to the community’s social service agencies.

Other action

City commissioners also:

• Agreed to rescind their previous denial of a rezoning request for about 11 acres at the southeast corner of Inverness and Clinton Parkway. The request was to rezone the property from a residential office zoning to a multi-family zoning. Commissioners agreed to reconsider the issue after the developer held another meeting with concerned neighbors and offered to put several stipulations on the zoning. The rezoning request now will go back to the Planning Commission for consideration. Commissioners agreed to rescind their previous decision on a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Mike Amyx was opposed.

• Gave Corliss the authority to submit a new bid for the vacant Farmland Industries property on Lawrence’s eastern edge. Commissioners did not disclose the details of the bid, but pledged to have a public discussion about the project prior to finalizing any contracts to purchase the nearly 500-acre former fertilizer plant. The city hopes to convert the property, which needs a significant amount of environmental cleanup, into a business park.

• Agreed to purchase three new hybrid diesel-electric buses for the city’s transit system. The $1.8 million purchase will be entirely funded by federal stimulus dollars.

Comments

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

City Commissioners,

May I suggest that the public discussions disclose dollar numbers in order for the taxpayers to make a fiscally responsible decision as to whether or not taxpayers wish to support this endeavor? After all tax dollars necessary to rehabilitate this property do belong to the taxpayer. Taxpayer do deserve an opportunity to vote on how the property will be used and HOW MANY tax dollars they wish to invest. Multiple scenarios would be appreciated.

How many clean up dollars need to come from the taxpayers? How many did Farmland leave behind? Can taxpayers pursue Farmland Industries for further financial assistance?

Also this matter should give pause before approving any new industry looking at Lawrence that has a history of conflict or potential conflict with the EPA. It is likely they would not be good stewards in Lawrence,Kansas. Frankly taxpayers CANNOT afford the risk.

Thank you, Merrill

monkeyhawk 5 years, 8 months ago

"May I suggest that the public discussions disclose dollar numbers in order for the taxpayers to make a fiscally responsible decision as to whether or not taxpayers wish to support this endeavor?" Why do you write silly crapola like that? The people elected this commission, so the taxpayers (as if you paid a bundle..) have absolutely no say in what they do. Of course, I have always been resolutely against this pig of a project and the thought that any kind of business would consider Lawrence as an investment is laughable. The city has always wanted to buy this toxic dump -- so now they will give it to Lawrence as a wonderful Christmas present. Thank you master, may I have another?

Amy Heeter 5 years, 8 months ago

Here we go again. This problem keeps coming up for discussion. Everytime the council gives a hint that they will address the problem and everytime they back up and think about it more. The message has been sent time and again; Keep panhandling nothing will be done about it.

I won't compare people to cockroaches but I do agree the wet shelter is making the problem bigger than it has to be. I lived in a larfe city a few years ago. This city was three times the sixe of Lawrence. This city has one of the most efficent Missions in existence. There are homless & vagrants but you can walk down the street and never be approached. Because they have a law against panhandling and they enforce it.

Chris Ogle 5 years, 8 months ago

No spare change.... that would take care of most it.

temperance 5 years, 8 months ago

"City commissioners said Tuesday they are not interesting in requiring a license."

I don't think the city commissioners are interesting, either.

It's time to fire your copy editor.

zettapixel 5 years, 8 months ago

xbusguy... I like your approach, but sometimes I also like to ask, "Do you take credit?"

Charlie Sabotage 5 years, 8 months ago

so the downtown business owners are afraid panhandlers will run customers off and downtown will be over run with vagrants? I see not how this could be possible. no customers, no one with money. the vagrants definately wouldn't be there. I see them all flocking to the two wal-marts. EVERYONE goes to wal-mart and with their roll backs, they ALL have spare change. that's they way to go if you need a few extra bucks. just a heads up

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 8 months ago

Throw them out in the cold! I don't think so. I don't want anyone to be out there freezing and I worry about the homeless that have no place to get into. I would bet a quarter that those of you who don't want "your" tax money going to help people you don't like are not hurting financially. So, next time, say to yourself, there but for the grace of God go I, and show some patience and compassion.

50YearResident 5 years, 8 months ago

What is keeping these homeless out-of-towners from moving to southern Texas, California or Florida where they can get in out of the cold?

zettapixel 5 years, 8 months ago

50YearResident... as a proud citizen of South Texas for 27 years... I can assure you that the thing that keeps the homeless out-of-towners from moving to South Texas is the fact that we won't let them. Our area city councils would eradicate the problem... and if they didn't, we'd remove the city council members and/or remove the homeless causing the problems.

50YearResident 5 years, 8 months ago

zettapixel, can you send a couple of your city councils members our way?

Jimo 5 years, 8 months ago

"There are homless & vagrants but you can walk down the street and never be approached. Because they have a law against panhandling and they enforce it."

Can't say whether it is accurate that you're 'never approached' but can categorically say that it isn't because there 'is a law against panhandling' and 'they enforce it' if they are anyone in the United State of America. Courts across the nation regularly and for quite some while strike down what is proposed here: banning solicitation. You can prohibit intimidation. You can prohibit blocking movement. But you can't criminalize asking someone for a dollar. Lawrence already has those restrictions.

If the merchants are truly concerned, they'll fund their own plain clothes 'guards,' make certain they're fully briefed on what is/is not aggressive panhandling, and then patrol the area, calling the police to make complaints when they observe this. Or the merchants can decide that this isn't a serious enough issue to be willing to fund themselves and stop wasting the commission's time pestering them for more subsidies.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Merchants would have to be pretty sure that their efforts would result in enough extra business to cover their costs.

Also, isn't it a concern of most citizens that downtown is a pleasant place to go?

In my very incomplete poll of various people, I've learned that some folks have indeed stopped going downtown because of panhandlers.

As a taxpayer, I'd be glad for some of our tax revenue to go towards helping downtown become pleasant enough for everyone to visit to shop, eat, etc.

I'd much rather spend our money on that than on any number of ridiculous purchases/investments/etc. like the recent bio-tech building nonsense.

50YearResident 5 years, 8 months ago

I think that in a town the size of Lawrence a plain clothed policeman would be "made" after the first arrest and thus become ineffective. The panhandlers will know he's comming a block away.

puddleglum 5 years, 8 months ago

western missouri?

get the hell out of here.

keep your laws & paws off my body

d_prowess 5 years, 8 months ago

I support the right for people to solicit for money downtown, but I agree with shop owners that it does sometimes deter people from being comfortable downtown. I think some of the concern would be alleviated with great police presence on the street and therefore fully support that initiative. And I don't necessarily think that they need to be plain clothed. Some people like to see police and need it to feel safe. They need to be able to see the police and be able to approach them if they feel harassed. And also their visable presence may deter some of the aggressive panhandling that people tell stories about because they would know the law could only be a block away.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 8 months ago

I will never understand the malice toward these people. I hope there are those who continue to help them. Not everyone is always in total control of their lives. You can't overcome how you were raised that easily. It takes a lot of help and a lot of time. As for me, even if I find some unlikeable, even if I don't exactly understand their circumstance, I will love them and I will pray for them.

sustainabilitysister 5 years, 8 months ago

“If enforcement doesn’t increase, if some other mechanism doesn’t emerge, I can see downtown becoming overrun,” said Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, 804 Mass. “I think this summer it will be a free-for-all. People won’t call the police. They just won’t come back to downtown.” Please people and Dan, I think you and your family are doing just fine. Have some tolerance. All of our community does not live and look the way you expect them to live nor do they need to make you feel comfortable. I'm sorry you have this ideal and standard of the way look and present themselves downtown but "they" are part of our community and have the right to be there just as much as you and me. I was born in Lawrence and have worked and lived for years downtown and can count on 1 hand the number of times I've been (always pleasantly) asked for money. Please remember the root of the reason individuals are homeless. There is a lack of distribution of wealth. Dan while you sit counting your monies from your inflated prices at Sunflower in your big house, think about spreading some of the wealth.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

sustainability,

Downtown merchants contribute to our community in a variety of ways - they employ people, pay property and income taxes and generate sales tax revenue. They provide wanted/needed products and services.

Folks who shower at city facilities, eat at Link, and hang out/sleep at community shelters and on downtown benches/sidewalks are able to do so in part because of businesses that generate tax revenue.

What is their postiive contribution to our community?

sustainabilitysister 5 years, 8 months ago

Positive contributions to society do indeed come from merchants that are downtown. Not all downtown merchants are as intolerant as Dan Hughes. There's plenty of people in society that absolutely contribute in ways that can't be quantified don't you think?

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps.

Why didn't you answer my question?

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