CONCORD -- To curb the effect of aggressive solicitations which could limit residents' right to the enjoyment of public places, the City Council has banned such panhandling.
"We all have compassion for the needy, but we are concerned about public safety," Councilman Ron Leone said.
Neighborhood activist Paul Poston thanked the council, recounting an incident in a grocery store parking lot: after several refusals, a man followed him to his car with repeated requests for money and offers to carry and load the groceries.
Poston told the council he could take care of himself, but said he was concerned about elderly residents who might be intimidated by the experience.
"This is a long overdue and welcome ordinance," he said.
"A lot of it occurs because it goes unchecked," Police Chief Guy Swanger said. "This will allow us to check it."
Before unanimous approval at their Nov. 12 meeting, council members considered the distinction between "aggressive" solicitation and someone in need simply asking for help.
City Attorney Mark Coon said the law is designed around a request to "enhance public safety and foster economic vitality" made by council committee members Mayor Dan Helix and Vice Mayor Tim Grayson.
"It tries to carve out a zone of personal security," Coon said.
He established limits for public solicitations after checking similar codes in other cities and reviewing data about persistent "panhandlers," mostly in the areas of Todos Santos Plaza, Willow Pass Safeway, and Park & Shop, according to Coon's presentation.
Physical proximity and location are two primary defining factors of "aggressive" solicitations under the new ordinance. It prohibits solicitors from close "in your face" contact, blocking a person's path, threatening and touching.
If that happens, people can report it to police and the solicitor would be charged with an infraction. Three infractions in one year results in a misdemeanor charge.
Coon said violators would likely be channeled to the Concord Community Court program. That court generally attempts to link violators with whatever kinds of help they need to become law abiding and more self-sufficient.
The location element of the new ordinance focuses on "captive audience solicitation."
As an example, people seated in an outdoor fenced cafe area cannot get up and leave to avoid persistent begging. That kind of solicitation behavior is now banned.
Other prohibited areas include public parking lots or structures, close proximity to ATMs, public transportation stops (including BART) or people in line at theaters, restaurants and taxi stops.
"How do you address somebody who is outside the limit, when you are trapped at a red light?" Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister asked, and also wanted to know if the ordinance would be a tool for stores or individuals to use to call police if panhandlers are outside of a business
Coon said sidewalk to vehicle solicitation is addressed under the vehicle code, and noted that the ordinance does address aggressive solicitation outside a business.
Coon did mention that he still planned to look into a question raised in a letter from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund about the limitation of employment solicitation from the sidewalk.
On the softer side, Grayson was assured that Girl Scouts could still sell cookies outside of Safeway.
"(The ordinance) is carefully crafted with compassion for the homeless and poor who need assistance," he said.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.