Santa Maria wants to crack down on aggressive panhandling. The city will be discussing adopting an ordinance at tomorrow's City Council meeting. The ordinance has similarities to ordinances adopted by Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, and Lompoc.
Alex Cullison has been homeless for 8 years, doing what he can to make ends meet. He stands quietly outside shopping centers holding his sign and waving to those who pass by, hoping they feel generous.
"As I like to say, it's hit and miss," said Cullison. "A majority of the time, I make enough to survive throughout the day."
Santa Maria wants to crack down on panhandling in city limits, not necessarily on people like Cullison, but on those who are classified as aggressive panhandlers. When it says aggressive panhandling, the city is targeting specific behaviors and actions that it wants to eliminate. For example, the ordinance would prevent panhandlers from using intimidating or obscene language when soliciting for money. It would also prevent them from touching someone or a car without that person's consent.
"We have confirmed that there are people who are doing aggressive panhandling who don't even live in Santa Maria," said Mark van de Kamp. "They drive here, they set up a spot and ask for money in a way that is intimidating in order to coerce people into giving them money."
137 complaints about panhandling came in to the city over the course of a year, but not all of those were aggressive panhandling cases. Santa Maria wants to adopt rules similar to those now in effect in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Lompoc.
"It's viewed as another tool in the toolbox that our police officers can use when we encounter someone who is really intimidating people, asking for something of value," said van de Kamp.
If City Council votes to pass the ordinance at tomorrow's meeting, there will be another public hearing and, ultimately, another vote at the following meeting on June 17th.