La Mesa considers ban on panhandling

Removed and rock-embedded medians don’t thwart practice

Fletcher Parkway panhandler
  • Fletcher Parkway panhandler

The City of La Mesa may ask Democratic assemblywoman Shirley Weber for help with a bill to ban panhandling on medians because Senate Bill 604 (a median-panhandling ban introduced by Republican state senator Joel Anderson) failed to make it out of the assembly committee on transportation last August.

Seeking a state solution was discussed at the December 10 La Mesa City Council meeting in response to mayor Art Madrid's proposal to explore changes to the city's panhandling ordinance.

In a memo to the council, Madrid referred to the city of Merced's "Median Island Safety Ordinance." He asked the city attorney to "review and incorporate appropriate changes" to La Mesa's "ordinance or for his colleagues to "adopt an ordinance similar to Merced's."

At the meeting, Madrid modified his request. For 120 days, city attorney Glenn Sabine and city manager David Witt will follow the progress of median ordinances in Merced and Paso Robles.

Madrid and councilman Ernest Ewin praised the work of La Mesa police chief Ed Aceves and Anderson on SB-604. Aceves said he met with Anderson the week before to discuss re-introducing the bill.

"Without getting too political," Aceves said that one option was to have a Democratic legislator "put forth" the bill.

Weber is listed as a co-author of SB-604 (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB604), and Ewin recommended involving her and other legislators in future efforts.

Ewin spoke against Madrid's proposal for a local ordinance, saying that he did not want it to become a "test case."

Panhandling legislation in some jurisdictions was ruled as an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights. Assistant city attorney Greg Lusitana said a Redondo Beach law was "soundly defeated" and cost that city more than $200,000 in attorney fees.

Legislation including SB-604 emphasizes safety issues. Madrid said, "I don't want to do anything to cause a lawsuit," but people are "running from one lane to another with moving traffic."

Ewin said "kids" set up beach chairs on an El Cajon Boulevard median to promote a car wash. Ewin described efforts in La Mesa that included placing rocks on medians near Grossmont and La Mesa boulevards to discourage panhandlers.

Madrid said the Grossmont median was narrowed in 2006 and "there are still people straddling [it] and collecting money."

Aceves said he was also following the legislation in other cities. He said Santee's aggressive panhandling ordinance could be difficult to enforce due to issues such whether holding "a sign with certain words" or "someone staring" was aggressive.

Aceves said he would ask the California Police Chiefs Association lobbyist for recommendations about what to do next. He also said that police chiefs in Indio and Los Angeles "knew senators they believed would be supportive" of the bill.

The day after the meeting, a man holding a sign identifying himself as a veteran stood on the narrow, rocky median. Several blocks away, a man sat on the median at the entrance to Costco on Fletcher Parkway and Marengo Avenue. His sign read, "TRYIN 2 EAT & STAY WARM. SSI SOON. ANYTHING HELPS. EVEN SMILE."

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