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Long Beach proposes crackdown on panhandlers

May 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In some places in Long Beach, begging for money may soon be illegal. Some councilmembers in the city want to crack down on panhandlers.

Councilmembers Robert Garcia and Suja Lowenthal said their constituents often complain about panhandlers during town hall meetings. They said there is protection for panhandling under the First Amendment, but there are limits to those protections for pedestrians.

The councilmembers want to create what they call "buffer zones" to panhandling in certain areas. Those buffer zones include:

  • Public transportation stops
  • Outdoor dining areas
  • ATMs
  • Fuel pumps
  • Parking structures/parking lots
  • Medians
  • Freeway entrances/exits

Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal will introduce the proposal at Tuesday's city council meeting.

"What you don't have the right to do is to intimidate me. First Amendment rights should not cross over to my personal sense of security and my sense of intimidation," she said.

What is unclear is the powers that the police would have to enforce the ordinance.

"It's such a casual pass-and-go kind of thing when you're walking on the street. I don't think that's something they could really enforce," said Jennifer Glenn of Long Beach.

Nanette Reyna, who is a panhandler, said if it's made illegal anywhere in the city, it could lead to an increase in crime.

"Maybe you might see armed robberies," she said.

For a couple of kids, asking politely turned out to be a pretty good business for them. They approached people with a flat tire on their bicycle and asked for money to get a new tire. In less than a half hour, they were able to collect $26.

A couple of business owners said panhandlers haven't been a huge problem. On occasion, they'll have someone come into their shop to ask customers for money.

The Long Beach City Attorney's Office will be asked to come up with a plan that doesn't violate a person's First Amendment right to ask for money.. According to Lowenthal, they're hoping to have a plan within a month to look over.