Bakersfield businesses want tougher rules against panhandling

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The Downtown Business Association hopes to convince the Bakersfield City Council to come up with an ordinance to deal with what it calls increased and more aggressive begging.

The DBA went to the Council meeting Wednesday night, arguing something is needed to deal with panhandling on private property.

City Councilman Terry Maxwell immediately asked that the issue go to the "legislation and litigation" subcommittee, of which he is the chairman.

DBA board president Jeff Hayward made the organization's pitch, and he told Eyewitness News it's a three-prong effort.

"We have to work with the city to protect people's rights to free speech, we have to protect the business-owners, and we have to define, or find out, what people actually need help," Hayward said.

Hayward said he hopes Bakersfield will develop an ordinance like those the DBA has discovered in other cities in the valley.

He said DBA members feel they're seeing more panhandling, and he points to areas like big box parking lots, and stores and gas stations in the 23rd and 24th Streets corridor.

"Where I'm afraid to take my kids to get gas," he said.

In that same area, Kyle Gilliam was sitting on his blanket Wednesday afternoon with a half-full bottle of beer, a few belongings, and $1.14.

"I panhandle just to get what I want to satisfy me at that time," he told Eyewitness News. "I don't like to do it. It's embarrassing, but you've got to do what you've got to do."

The 43-year-old man said his life takes ups and downs, but he's been panhandling on the streets for a long time.

At the Mission, executive director Carlos Baldovinos said not all homeless people are panhandlers, and not all beggars are actually homeless.

"There may be people that are professional panhandlers that are not homeless at all," he said. "There are people that come from outside of Bakersfield, outside of Kern county, they go into this community to panhandle because they know that there's a benevolent spirit in this community."

And, Baldovinos argues good-hearted local people are not really helping if they give panhandlers money.

"They could use those panhandling dollars to help with their addiction," he said.

From the DBA, Hayward said that's what his organization sees in data they've found.

"Up to two-thirds of these folks suffer from alcohol or drug addiction," Hayward said. "And every time they ask for money, and I give them money, I'm just killing them."

At the Council meeting, Hayward urged a local ordinance that would ban panhandling on private property, and 25 feet from business entrances, ATMs, pay phones and transit stops.

Maxwell said he wants to see this issue at the next meeting of the "leg and lit" committee, and he urged anyone interested to come to that session.

From the Mission, Baldovinos said there needs to be education about the issue of panhandling and getting meaningful help to those who are really needy.

Hayward said the DBA recognizes the problem is complicated. For one thing, there's the issue of freedom of speech. In public places, people have a right to ask for a handout. But, his group thinks there can be solution.

"We (want to) protect the freedom of speech, of course, and perhaps even work with the Homeless Collaborative, and some business-owners to make something that works for everybody," Hayward said.