Bakersfield to keep discussing anti-panhandling ordinance

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) On a 4-3 vote, a divided Bakersfield City Council chose to continue its discussion on an ordinance against what it called "aggressive solicitation" by panhandlers, but the actual ordinance was not approved.

"I believe we need an ordinance of some sort," said Bakersfield resident Jeff George as he addressed the City Council at its meeting Wednesday evening.

But, others said such an ordinance would have disproportionate impact on the homeless. Representatives from the Kern County Homeless Coalition said if the homeless get multiple citations for panhandling, it makes it that much harder for them to get permanent housing because of the citations.

"We are asking that you view this issue not through the lens of law enforcement, but through the lens of compassion and collaboration so that we can come up with a solution that works best for everyone," said Jim Wheeler, chairman of the coalition.

Downtown Business Association's Kevin Bartl disputed that assertion, claiming the ordinance does not criminalize the homeless. Bartl said other cities have successfully implemented a similar ordinance.

The measure, if approved, would make "aggressive solicitation" illegal. It would prohibit all soliciting near banks, ATMs, credit unions, parking lots, public spaces and others.

Enforcement would be difficult. Police Chief Greg Williamson said those arrested under the ordinance would be out of custody quickly because of jail overcrowding.

"This would be a revolving cycle," said Williamson.

The measure comes back for further discussion at a future meeting.