Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance Draws Controversy, but Council Passes Package on Homeless, Panhandling and Downtown Public Restrooms

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On Tuesday night the council tackled a host of issues related to panhandling and the homeless population.  The issue of downtown bathrooms was not contested.  Rochelle Swanson added to the staff recommendation which recommended using Portland Loo facilities at the G Street Plaza and added the second location as the E Street Plaza – a motion that passed unanimously.

The council was not prepared to vote on anything with regard to the storage of personal goods.  Mayor Robb Davis pointed out that the issue of storage was an issue that came up last time they discussed these ordinances.  He was recommending small space storage near Davis Community Church, but warned that not enough was understood of the needs of people who are moving around the city with large quantities of personal belongings.

Lawson Snipes suggested going with a 3 x 5 foot configuration.  He said not to “waste your money on big lockers.”  The problem of personal belongings, he argued, came down to four individuals who each have their own unique problems and need help rather than an ordinance.

The council saved the most controversial for last – the ordinance that would curtail aggressive and obstructive conduct.  Among the key provisions, the proposed ordinance would prohibit aggressive conduct; prohibit soliciting within 15 feet of an ATM or a door of a financial institution; prohibit blocking or disrupting traffic; not allow individuals to block a sidewalk or an entrance to a building from general passage; and require individuals to leave private property upon request of a police officer, the property owner or the property owner’s representative.

This item drew heavy community opposition, as 12 people spoke during public comment on this item and only two were in favor of the ordinance.

Resident Tia Will called the ordinance “stigmatizing.”  She said, “I think this needlessly stigmatizes the homeless population of our city as those who are most likely to be violent or
aggressive.”

Others pointed out that the police already have tools to deal with aggressive individuals and this targets the homeless population.

Asked Will Kelly, “What tools will this give to the police to benefit the community and what tools will it give to benefit the homeless population?”

Gloria Partida argued that we “really won’t get anywhere unless we see what is causing the problem.”

Carolyn Stiver, representing the Davis Chamber, supported the ordinance.  She made the point that “nowhere in that paragraph does homeless appear, we are addressing a behavior and not a state of being.”

She read, “Increased aggressive conduct has contributed to the loss of and access to of spaces open to the general public.  Some exhibited behaviors curtailed business by creating fear in employees, shoppers and visitors who have expressed their concerns to both the city and our organization.”

On the other hand, Lawson Snipes took exception to the word “aggressive.”  He stated, “We don’t have aggressive panhandlers.  What we have are sign flyers.”

Chief Darren Pytel responded to the idea that there are already existing laws for most of this.  He said, “This would make a different type of conduct prohibited.”  He added, “There’s no state law that deals with panhandling near an ATM.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee argued that this is not about homelessness, it is about behavior.  He added it is not about criminalizing homelessness, it is “really about this behavior that we’re trying to prohibit.”

He said, “We are talking about exceptional case, exceptional cases not of homeless folks, but exceptional cases of behavior.

“I think these are reasonable expectations for our community,” he said.  “This is not about limiting free speech in terms of protests or anything like that.”

He added, “I’m optimistic that we’ll pass staff recommendations.”

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson agreed.  She said, “It is bothersome that nothing in here says homelessness.”  She pointed out,  “Most aggressive people are not homeless and are not from Davis.

“Their stories tend to be more about aggressive behavior,” she said.  “This is a behavior issue.”

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs argued that some folks’ behavior is intimidating and threatening to others.  He said, “We have made fair amount of strides toward dealing with homelessness in our community.”  But he added, “No question there’s much more work to do.”

Like his colleagues, he stated, “This is a behavior issue.”

Councilmember Will Arnold said that “this ordinance will not curb panhandling.”  Many other steps are necessary to be able to address the root causes of some of this behavior.

He said this ordinance will not solve all of these issues, but it does include “limited but important tools.”  He said, “I believe it deserves our support not despite our compassion but because of it.”

The dissent came from Mayor Robb Davis.

He said that while homelessness is not mentioned in this ordinance, “this is about the homeless look.”  He said, “It does, I think, spring from the desire to remove from our downtown certain people.”

The mayor said he doesn’t say that without evidence, “I say that because that’s what people are telling me.”

He said people are saying to him, “We need to decide how many homeless people we can deal with and find dozens of ways to get rid of the rest.

“We are not dealing with the issues here,” he said.  “Why are people panhandling?  What safety net has been frayed and broken?  What need is not being met?  How is it that they end up on the street asking for money?  Who wants to do that?”  He said, “There’s an alienation here.”

Like Lawson Snipes, he said, “I don’t see the aggressiveness related to panhandling.  I see aggressiveness in the downtown.  I see people screaming.”  What he sees are people who are scaring even him, those who are severely mentally ill.  He said, “We’ve systematically chosen not to treat them.  If you want to talk about aggressive behavior let’s talk about untreated mental illness.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee would respond that he doesn’t “think any of us believes this is a solution.”  He also pointed out that the hostile emails are not limited on this issue, that they got hostile emails for bathrooms downtown and the same thing about lockers.

“That’s just kind of part of the deal” he said. “We voted to put two restrooms downtown.”

He added, “I think we’re able to think about what’s reasonable and use our best judgment.

“I feel like overall tonight, we’ve moved the city forward,”  Brett Lee said.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the aggressive panhandling ordinance over the objection of Mayor Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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37 thoughts on “Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance Draws Controversy, but Council Passes Package on Homeless, Panhandling and Downtown Public Restrooms”

  1. Keith O

    Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance Draws Controversy

    This item drew heavy community opposition, as 12 people spoke during public comment on this item and only two were in favor of the ordinance.

    So we had 10 people speak against the aggressive panhandling ordinance and that represents “heavy opposition”?  Looking at some of the names it sounds like the same core group of people who often show up to speak out against such issues.  Do they represent the city as a whole?  I say not.  I’d bet if a poll was taken about this new ordinance it would be widely accepted by most of the city residents.  Kudos to the council for doing the right thing and not kowtowing to these 10 speakers.

    On the other hand Lawson Snipes took exception to the word, “aggressive.”  He stated, “We don’t have aggressive panhandlers.  What we have are sign flyers.”

    I was once encountered by an aggressive panhandler in downtown Davis.  He asked me for money and when I declined he got mad and talked crap.  Not physically aggressive but none the less aggressive.

      1. Keith O

        You will always have a group of liberal activists who will show up for most of these “causes”, usually the same core contingent.  I believe others who support the ordinance don’t like to speak out for fear of being considered unsympathetic or mean towards the homeless even though they feel this is something that needs to be remedied.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The most interesting comments by far were by Lawson Snipes, a former homeless individual who now does the Spare Changer. I don’t know that he’s ever done a public comment before.

        2. Tia Will

          Keith

          don’t like to speak out for fear of being considered unsympathetic or mean towards the homeless even though they feel this is something that needs to be remedied.”

          “Fear of being considered unsympathetic or mean”. Really ? Is this a significant fear?  If someone feels that is a consideration, may they should consider whether that is a self assessment of something someone else might think. After all, if it is their true self assessment, then maybe they should consider making a change. If it is a fear of what others think, then I can’t help but wonder about the strength of one’s own values. Why would one care what others think if you are certain of your values.

      2. Howard P

        Would you go to a CC meeting to support something that you thought was a ‘fait accompli’?  I don’t think I would… in this case, least I expected would have been a 3-2 in favor, with a 5-0 likely.

      3. Ken A

        Since I’m pretty sure I could spend the rest of the week walking around Davis asking everyone I saw what the city council was debating Tuesday night and would not find a single (not even one) person that could tell me I don’t think that that more people came out in support was meaningful.

        P.S. I think that the 80% support of the measure by the city council (elected by the people of Davis) is close to the support it would have in an honest poll.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          You guys are making way too much of my sentence. It was a half hour of comments, I highlighted a few and then moved on. I was trying to give a flavor of what it was like inside the room for those who weren’t there.

        2. Keith O

          You guys are making way too much of my sentence

          Did you mean this sentence?

          This item drew heavy community opposition

          Like I stated, it wasn’t “heavy community” opposition.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            It was, it was the community that showed up. I never said it was a poll or representative of community opinion.

        3. Tia Will

          Ken

          “…asking everyone I saw what the city council was debating Tuesday night and would not find a single (not even one) person that could tell me I don’t think that that more people came out in support was meaningful.”

          If this is true, I believe it is a major failing of the community. The homeless in our community are not homeless because of some moral failing or lifestyle choice. They are not “bad” people. They are almost universally poor people. I do not see the “homeless problem” as the fault of the individuals, many of whom have some type of mental illness” but rather as a fault of our society to meet the basic needs of those who for reasons beyond their control are unable to meet their own needs. This is a societal failing and if you are correct, a demonstration of apathy.

      4. Jeff M

        Virtual signaling is cheap and comes with no risk in a town like Davis.

        Conversely, speaking out in opposition to the virtual signaler results in yet another opportunity for the virtual signaler to attack his/her opposition as being (fill in the blank for a great number of virtual-signal-sanctioned and Davis-Vanguard-allowed) pejoratives.

        1. Ken A

          Virtue Signaling is not new, the bible says “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” 

          My friend Ian who is a great guy that helps a lot of people (and is also an “out and proud” atheist) always says that if even 10% of the people that spend so much time “virtue signaling” would actually help people the world would be a better place.

        2. Tia Will

          Jeff

          Virtual signaling is cheep and comes with no risk in a town like Davis.”

          Odd comment given that someone was willing to stand up in public comment, virtually signaling how he was protecting the children of Davis, whom he asserted I was trying to poison. Wondering how you reconcile that ?

        3. Jeff M

          Yes Ken.  Thanks for the correction.  That will teach me to type quick before my meeting and skip the edit.

          Virtue Signaling.

          “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.”

        4. Jeff M

          Odd comment given that someone was willing to stand up in public comment, virtually signaling how he was protecting the children of Davis, whom he asserted I was trying to poison. Wondering how you reconcile that ?

          That was not virtue signaling, nor was it virtual signaling. It was me selfishly not wanting unneeded drugs in our drinking water.  It was in fact the opposite.  Those demanding the drugs be put in the water were virtue signaling their care about fake victims.

          Speaking of drugs…I see virtue signaling like a drug that some people get addicted to.   They always need more and they are very angry when someone else challenges them and appears to be trying to take away their signaling position.

    1. Tia Will

      Keith

      There was one man who in public comment related an incident in which he and his family were confronted in a very threatening and aggressive manner by an individual in the downtown. I then related two incidents in which my children and I were similarly aggressively threatened by very well dressed men driving expensive cars on two different occasions over parking lot frustrations, one in the E st parking lot, and one in the North Davis Safeway parking lot.

      My objection to grouping the “aggressive behavior” with the Portland loo and storage issues is that by juxtaposing these measures, the implication is clear that this is viewed as something that is more likely to be encountered in the visibly poor population ( to include the homeless and panhandlers). I disagree. We can see aggressive behaviors in many groups in our society regardless of their socioeconomic status. From the grouping of this ordinances, I think it is clear that the intent is to target this particular population or if one prefers the Chambers language, the behaviors of this particular population.

    1. Anya McCann

      I buy the Spare Changer. And I periodically give donations. And the printer gives a reasonable price. I know others who do as well. He sells copies next to the farmers market, at 3rd/C. It is funded by locals who support the efforts. Maybe you should check out a copy. Created by someone trying to work for a living.

  2. Jim Frame

     I have never had anyone in Davis ask me to buy a copy of the “Spare Changer”.

     

    You must not get to the Farmers Market much.  Lawson is there every Saturday morning, and is often downtown during the week as well.

  3. Tia Will

    Jeff

    That was not virtue signaling, nor was it virtual signaling”

    By the definition you subsequently posted, you are right. What you did was not either virtue signaling nor virtual signaling. What it was, according to your subsequent conversation with me stating that you knew that I was not trying to poison anyone, was you being willing to knowingly lie to dramatize your point. There seems to be a lot of willful lying going on these days in order to achieve political ends. I would rather tell my own truth and win or lose on the merits than cheat and call it a “win”.

    1. Jeff M

      Oh please.  Your own beloved government lists fluoride as a poison right on the package of toothpaste.  If I am lying than your beloved government is lying.   And now that I think about it there is a lot of that going around so maybe I am just a useful fool repeating what the government says.

  4. Alan Miller

    They are not “bad” people.

    Is this not more a statement of personal philosophy that “everyone has good in them” then an objective statement of fact?  If there is one thing that everyone in this debate seems to agree on is that the homeless/pandhandling/on-the-street people of concern (the HLPHOS) are not homogeneous.

    They consist of housed and unhoused, mentally ill in all shades of grey up to sane, willing to work and not willing to work, there by choice and not there by choice, addicted to substances and not addicted to substances, with dog and without dog, etc.

    And possibly “good” and “bad”.  But of course you have to define that.

    I’ll define it thusly:  bad people of the HLPHOS community are those people that we should be concerned about.  And we often don’t know who that is.

    But often the police do.  A few years ago there was a group of five individuals sitting in a outdoor place, public-ish but legally trespassing, openly drinking.  I was talking to a police officer a couple of hundred feet away from them.  The officer pointed to the HLPHOS group and listed each one of them by name, city of origin, their entire rap sheet, and when they were released from jail.  The crimes he listed were all felony convictions.  He had also been bitten recently by one of their dogs, and another of them had a scary altercation with a woman walking downtown.  He then looked at me and said, “Don’t be fooled, these are not good people”.

    I had been listening to a lot of “pro-homeless” talk in town at the time and was trying to get past my tingling spidey-sense about these particular people, yet it turned out my spidey-sense was correct.  The officier spent much time making contact with these people on a daily basis and knew each one personally.  He was a damn good cop.  In this case, his warning that these were “not good people” meant “be wary of these folks”.

    I would certainly make the argument that under my definition of “bad” people, the HLPHOS person who accosted Jack Armstrong and his family is a “bad” person — i.e. someone we have reason to be concerned about.  Sure, they may have “good” in them, but that really doesn’t matter when someone is screaming at you “I’m going to shoot you and f–k your children up the a**”.

    No, you can’t make blanket statements about the HLPHOS community.  That goes both ways for all parameters.  And you may have a personal philosophy of the human experience that there is good in all people.  But many individuals don’t or can’t mine that good.

    What this officer shared with me was the facts about the individuals in front of us.

    I chose to heed the officer’s warning.

    Should we assume that all HLPHOS folks are dangerous?  Of course not.  Should we assume all HLPHOS folks are harmless?  Of course not.

      1. Ken A

        Tia has already told us that the homeless “are not “bad” people” but “very well dressed men driving expensive cars” are aggressive and threatening…

        P.S. I like the HLPHOS community better than “homeless” since many of the (so called) homeless are just people (housed and unhoused) that have learned that it is possible to hang out in an area with lots of people that want to “help” and end up making more “begging” than they would “working”…

        1. Howard P

          ‘Romas’, in particular… signs claiming destitution, small kids on display, 3-year old SUV 50 feet away (or have a ride).  Oak Tree Plaza, watched them in action… also seen 20 something folk, with a $500-600 bike in the background.

          Have wondered how I’d do, mussing up my grey hair, stay unshaven for two weeks, piece of cardboard and a felt pen, and looking for “help”… would bring a cute dog, for more empathy…

          That said, the great majority are “for reals”… then there are the “opportunists”…

        2. Alan Miller

          Have wondered how I’d do, mussing up my grey hair, stay unshaven for two weeks, piece of cardboard and a felt pen, and looking for “help”… would bring a cute dog, for more empathy…

          Let me know when you pull this off, and I’ll come by and drop a five-spot in your lap.

        3. Howard P

          Will do, Alan.

          If, when I do, all ‘proceeds’ will go to STEAC and/or DCM.

          Know of anyone that has a 7-10 year old dog that is cute, but can evoke pity?

  5. Jim Frame

    “Don’t be fooled, these are not good people”

    I’m not going to get into the good/bad discussion — there are too many variables, many of them subjective — but I’ll note that when working at the H Street shelter, the first thing you’re told by staff is not to turn your back on any of your equipment — even for a minute — or it’ll disappear.

    I’ve spent several days working there over the last year or so, and have met some really interesting people.  Most are quite pleasant, but there’s definitely a range.  Interspersed among the normal day-to-day interactions I’ve witnessed a couple of uncomfortable verbal confrontations and one fistfight.  I greatly admire the staff for their commitment to providing needed services in spite of the challenging circumstances.

     

    1. Howard P

      Like Jim, I’ve interacted with a number of these folk, two in particular… I’ve met folk who I’ve wondered “why are they ‘on the street’?”, and one who has physical, emotional, and MH challenges… spent 12 weeks trying to help the latter.

      Some might be scary to some folk, but out of the 2 dozen I have gotten to know at a certain level, never been concerned about my safety.  Wary, but comfortable.  And I’m not imposing, physically… skinny dude.

      The ordinances are fine.  But, the behavior of the homeless pales in comparison to those others who “don’t give a damn”, and consider them sub-human.

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