H-SANTA MARIA

Dec 16, 2013 8:50 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

Lompoc city council set to discuss aggressive panhandling ordinance

Another Central Coast city is considering a ban on aggressive panhandling. The Lompoc City Council will discuss an ordinance at its next meeting that would prohibit solicitation that intimidates someone into donating money. It can be touching someone, blocking someone on a sidewalk or from entering a business, and following someone. Lompoc Police Chief Larry Ralston says they have received many complaints over the past year from residents and businesses. If approved, Lompoc would join Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo with similar ordinances. Santa Maria does not have a panhandling ordinance. Some people who live in Lompoc say they are used to seeing panhandlers in their city. "They usually tell me that they are stranded or need somewhere to stay the night. They would appreciate some money," said Lompoc resident Wesley Hall. "In general, I think it is a problem, especially in the shopping center. There are multiple people usually every day that I come," said Lompoc resident Marijuan Guemo. Guemo says most of them are harmless. "I don't generally see anyone get mean. They are usually very thankful," said Guemo. But city leaders say it becomes a problem when someone can't take no for an answer. "We are just trying to provide that safety corridor for the customer," said Chief Ralston. He says most of their calls for aggressive panhandling are in the city's busy shopping centers. "It's just going to give us a tool to try to eliminate that person being aggressive and who is being forceful about getting a donation," said Ralston. The ordinance would prohibit panhandlers from certain locations in the city includingATMs, banks, parking garages, parking lots after dark, bus stops, and public restrooms. "That way when people are pulling into parking lots for example they are not being obstructed by one car handing someone a dollar and the other cars stack up behind," said Ralston. Chief Ralston believes this kind of ordinance will put a stop to it. "Control it. Reduce it and hopefully eliminate it," he said. The First Amendment protects soliciting for donations, but city leaders say aggressive panhandling is not covered by the constitution. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor if someone is caught aggressively panhandling. The Lompoc City Council meets Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.

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