Even in the threat of possible legal action, Santa Barbara City leaders are apparently not going to let their prized downtown area on State St. get over run by illegal vendors, aggressive panhandlers and others who business owners say create a negative atmosphere.
The Ordinance Committee, made up of three members of the City Council, spent over an hour working on some new wording for existing laws, but is not ready to move it forward for a full vote.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne, made a detail presentation that included legal information, court tested cases, and suggested solutions to the localized problems.
It’s clear something will be presented soon, supported heavily by the Chamber of Commerce, business owners, tourism leaders and a cross section of local residents who have spoken out about on going quality of life issues for months, if not years.
Visit Santa Barbara President Kathy Janega-Dykes said, “we promote Santa Barbara as a resort destination, as clean, safe and enjoyable and our problems with the aggressive panhandlers contradicts this image.”
State St. was just voted one of the best streets in the nation by the American Planning Association, but there’s still disorder that city leaders are trying to resolve.
“The conduct whether it’s aggressive panhandling or threatening behavior by panhandlers is an issue that needs to be dealt with. We have a lose-lose situation for those living on the streets and our visitors as well,” said Janega-Dykes.
The issue has come back to the surface recently when groups of mostly young people began crowding certain areas, blocking walkways, and – as many restaurant owners have reported – hassling customers for food and money.
Panhandling in a passive way, such as with a sign and not verbally is allowed and citations are not written for those who do that.
Musicians who have a place for “donations” are also generally allowed and that is often considered a form of free speech, depending on the noise level.
There are, however, legal fine lines on these issues and where people can sit or sleep outside if shelters are not available.
Homeless advocate Peter Marin said to the city leaders, “I want you to know that we will vigorously pursue anything we see as a violation of constitutional rights. In the past we have been very successful in doing that and I assume will be successful in the future.”
The proposed ordinance changes also give the City Librarian more control over the property, and maintaining a safe environment for visitors, especially in the outside entrance courtyard which has become a gathering place for people who are not using the library services.
New areas of concern that would be protected under the ordinance with a clear, measured space would be around lines at bank ATMs, movie theaters, and transportation stops.
With the proposals, also comes a call for more law enforcement.
“Any ordinance you create is great but it doesn’t make a bit of difference unless you have the manpower to enforce it,” said Tamara Erickson with Hotel Santa Barbara in the heart of downtown.
One homeless man, Jose Gallegos who is well known in the State St. zone, says even he has been solicited by panhandlers. He urged the city leaders to find some resolution to the issues for everyone’s benefit.