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Panhandling ban expands

POSTED February 13, 2013 9:02 a.m.
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Restrictions on panhandling activities in specific areas of Ceres are being extended to the newly annexed West Landing area since begging on Crows Landing Road has become a new city problem.

In June the city limits of Ceres were pushed to beyond Crows Landing Road on the west. Police have tried to enforce panhandling activities in the area around the El Rematito Flea Market but the 2004 Ceres city ordinance that restricts panhandling activities has not applied to that area. On Monday the Ceres City Council approved in a 3-0 vote expanding panhandling restrictions to Crows Landing and Hackett roads as well.

"We have a problem enforcing those because we can't," said City Attorney Mike Lyions. "The thought is it's our area and those roadways should be included within our existing ordinance."

When Mayor Chris Vierra asked Lyions if the city could enact a citywide ban on begging. Cities may not outright prohibit panhandling, said Lyions, because of the constitutionally protected right of free speech.

"It's not illegal to ask for money," said Lyions. "The only way to regulate that is to be able to tie it to a public safety concern to prohibit it at certain locations and that's what our ordinance does."

But the city did enact limitations based on other peoples' rights being infringed as well as traffic and safety concerns. The Ceres ordinance prohibits panhandling during darkness, within 100 feet of any signalized intersection, aggressive panhandling, panhandling within 25 feet of ATMs and approaching cars to panhandle. The ordinance is punishable with a misdemeanor citation.

Lyions said aggressive panhandling includes not taking a "no" for plea for money by blocking someone's path, cursing at them, touching, relentless following, and harassing a person for money. In the case of aggressive panhandling, deWerk said there must be a "victim" who is willing to get involved in the legal process by making a citizen's arrest. Most people, however, are satisfied with the officer warning a violator, and not interested in having to testify in court.

The specific streets where begging may not legally occur within 100 feet of a signalized intersection include Hatch, Mitchell, Whitmore, Herndon, Richland, Central, Fowler, Service, Morgan and Moffet.

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