Arcata Ca–Is it illegal to merely hold up a sign asking for money?

Arcata thinks it is, but a citizen lawsuit contends the city overstepped its bounds and its panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

 The free speech trial is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd, in Humboldt County Superior Courtroom 8–and the public is invited to attend.

On March 17th 2012 The Arcata City Council adopted the unlawfulpanhandling ordinance. As written, the ordinance makes it a crime to merely hold up a sign asking for money. By denying citizens constitutional right of free speech, this lawsuit filed by Richard Salzman contends the City Council overstepped its authority.

Salzman is being represented in this matter by Peter Martin.  Both Mr. Martin and Mr. Salzman are board members of the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund <> which was created to defend against incursion of the civil liberties of all citizens of Humboldt County.

 “If first they silence the poor and the homeless, and we say nothing, who will speak up when they try to silence rest of us?” Salzman asked.

 He noted that the section of the ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” including blocking one’s path, any physical contact or yelling, would be left unchallenged by this legal action.

 Specifically, Mr. Salzman contends that AMC Sections 4282B, 4282C, 4282D, 4282E, 4282F and 4282G are unconstitutional. The overall impact of these sections is to criminalize begging in a significant percentage of the City. Begging is a charitable solicitation. The First Amendment clearly protects charitable solicitations. No distinction of constitutional dimension exists between soliciting funds for oneself and for charity. The fact that a beggar keeps the money she receives does not strip the speech of First Amendment protection. A speaker’s rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because she is paid to speak.

 To be lawful, the ordinance must serve a compelling interest that is narrowly drawn to achieve its end. The City’s compelling interest is well-served by the ordinance’s ban on aggressive panhandling, to which Mr. Salzman does not take exception.

Mr. Salzman is of the view that ordinance’s ban on begging is not “narrowly tailored.”  To achieve the City’s goal of criminalizing the speech of a few beggars, the City has criminalized all charitable solicitations for money.   The picture below illustrates the problem with the Ordinance.  It is OK to hold a sign offer to sell pizza, but Mr. Salman’s sign is illegal.

Covered on locl news KIEM3:

(photo) Richard Salzman stand across from City Hall in violation of the current


  1. The City of Arcata, and least this current administration has a very different view of the world than the Arcata I moved to:

    ARTICLE 5—DEFENDING CIVIL RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES(Ord. 1339, eff. 5/2/2003)Sec. 2190 Purposes.The purposes of this ordinance are as follows:A. To protect the civil rights and civil liberties for all and to affirm the City’s commitment to embody democracy, and to embrace, defend and uphold the inalienable rights and fundamental liberties granted under the United States and the California Constitutions, as set forth in Resolution 023-32, A Resolution of the City Council of the City of Arcata to Defend the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties, adopted by the Council on January 15, 2003; andB. To ensure that local law enforcement continues to preserve and uphold residents’ freedom of speech, assembly, association, and privacy, the right to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, even if requested or authorized to infringe upon such rights by federal or state law enforcement agencies acting under new powers created by the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56), Homeland Security Act (Public Law 107-296), related executive orders, regulations or future enacted laws, executive orders or regulations.Sec. 2191 No Unconstitutional Detentions or Profiling.No management employee of the City shall officially engage in or permit unlawful detentions or profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious association that are in violation of individuals’ civil rights or civil liberties as specified in the Bill of Rights and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

    Ten years later its a criminal act to hold a sign up, quietly begging for assistance…. The City Attorney, manger and the city council should be held to this standard, but they are not. I cannot reconcile the new ordinance, with this existing city ordinance… Leadership in Arcata needs to change.

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