City Council OKs 1st step in anti-panhandling ordinance

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Bakersfield is on its way to becoming the 11th city in California to adopt an anti-panhandling ordinance.

By a 7-0 vote, the City Council approved a first reading of an ordinance that makes "aggressive solicitation" a misdemeanor and further bans all panhandling on medians, roadways, within 20 feet of a bank, credit union, ATM, or any parking lot after dark.

"It's something you should seriously consider, and we're challenged, I think we're in very good footing," said City Attorney Ginny Gennaro as she made a presentation to the City Council Wednesday evening.

Downtown business owners were the main driving force behind the push to have the city take action.

Business owners complained that panhandlers in front of their establishments were scaring off customers with aggressive actions when asking for money.

"I think it's the next step in this process for us to try to clean up this city, make it safe, secure and welcoming," said Kevin Bartl, board chairman of the Downtown Business Association.

But, advocates for the homeless pleaded with the City Council to delay implementing such an ordinance for a few months.

"We're disappointed they weren't willing to delay," said Jim Wheeler, chairman of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative.

The group has been reaching out to the homeless in central Bakersfield, including downtown, in an effort to get them into transitional housing. The concern is that those homeless who are cited for panhandling may not qualify for social services if they get multiple citations.

Wheeler said the group is concentrating in central Bakersfield.

"We're going to go out there and hope that the Downtown Business Association and the city are going to step up to the plate and help us deal with the homeless," said Wheeler.

The proposed ordinance goes for a second reading in April. If passed, it becomes effective 10 days after.