The city of Tulare approves an emergency ordinance that will prevent people from soliciting on center dividers in the roadway to prevent accidents
TULARE – After an influx of complaints hit city administrators’ ears this holiday season, city staff came up with an emergency ordinance that would prohibit panhandling in certain areas of Tulare.
Manny Correa, Tulare’s safety and compliance officer, received multiple calls from residents regarding potentially dangerous practices of solicitors in the city. These solicitors often stand in roadway medians or intersections, with some even walking through traffic to collect money. To remedy this, Correa proposed an emergency ordinance to the Tulare City Council, which would prohibit any solicitation, vending or panhandlers from certain areas. The ordinance was unanimously passed by the council on Jan. 17, and will be effective immediately.
“We noticed an increase of people panhandling in the median and locations that we don’t feel is safe,” Correa said. “They have free speech, so we cannot stop panhandling or solicitation in the medians, but the council can [pass an] urgency ordinance [to prohibit it in certain areas].”
Though the solicitors are protected by the first amendment, there are still restrictions to the areas they can solicit or vend in, especially for safety reasons. City manager Marc Mondell said that through this ordinance, all solicitors will be prohibited from standing on center dividers in roadways, and if they do want to solicit, they will have to be 50 feet away from any stop traffic light.
Even those who do acquire a permit, will still need to be 50 feet from a traffic light, must be over 18 years old and will also be prohibited from being on medians. Mondell said that they are trying to uphold peoples’ first amendment rights, but also ensure the safety of all citizens, not just the people holding the signs. Additionally, cars are not allowed to stop in the road and give money to solicitations, but instead have to pull over and purchase or give any money to the individual.
These regulations will be enforced by the city’s code enforcement officers and police officers. When individuals are found violating the ordinance, they will be notified, given a copy of the ordinance and then directed as to how they can be in compliance with the ordinance. Everyone will be prohibited, except for city staff performing maintenance on medians, or people using it to cross the street, according to Mondell.
The rate at which panhandling and soliciting is occurring within the city has reached a level where the ordinance would have to be effective immediately. With the council’s affirmative vote, the city can now enforce the new ordinance. There will be no exemptions for any individuals or organizations, according to Mondell.
“We will be able to give a safe location to people to perform their panhandling and keep them in the scope that they’re supposed to be in, [and promote] passive panhandling, and not aggressive panhandling,” Correa said. “We are not stopping their freedom of speech, we are just providing safer streets for everybody.”
According to Mondell, panhandlers also cause distractions in accident-prone areas such as medians and intersections. There are visibility issues in intersections when people with large signs are standing on the corner while people are trying to make right or left turns.
“The thing that spurred [the emergency ordinance] was a solicitation for funeral expenses. When people are going into the medians, walking on the medians and going in and out of multiple lanes of traffic, you get caught up with some real safety concerns, especially for drivers who weren’t expecting that to happen,” city attorney Mario Zamora said.
Mondell said there was a “huge increase” in panhandling and solicitors just before Thanksgiving. Solicitors have been coming to Tulare from other cities, such as Bakersfield and Fresno, according to Correa. Correa and other city staff had asked certain panhandlers why they came such long distances to solicit in Tulare, and they claimed it was because they would “not be harassed” in Tulare.