Arcata panhandling ordinance thrown out
Created: 09/26/2012 12:35:41 PM PDT
The Arcata panhandling ordinance enacted in 2010 has been largely thrown out by Superior Court Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen.
The ordinance banned panhandling in certain locations around the city, including major intersections, pedestrian bridges and the entrances and exits to businesses.
The ordinance also banned “aggressive panhandling,” but the challenge to the ordinance by Arcata resident Richard Salzman and attorney Peter Martin, did not address that portion of the law.
”There appears to be no dispute that Arcata has legitimate interests in prohibiting ‘aggressive panhandling,’ so the Court will not dwell on that,” the court ruling states.
”The core difficulty with evaluating the Ordinance is that it pits Arcata’s legitimate interests against the speech rights of individuals,” Reinholtsen wrote in the ruling.
The ruling states that Arcata has a legitimate interest in “preventing congestion and controlling traffic” and that targeted panhandling can be disruptive to traffic flow. It goes on to state that Arcata has a valid interest in protecting its citizens from unwanted communications, or “the right to be let alone.”
However, Reinholtsen ruled that the restrictions infringed on constitutional rights.
”It is only a slight exaggeration that new laws that restrict speech based on the content of that speech are impossible to uphold,” the ruling states.
”In sum, the Court finds that the legitimate interests advanced by Arcata with respect to the targeted panhandling prohibition are insufficient in most instances to justify the infringement of solicitors’ right and, for that reason, it is largely unconstitutional,” the ruling states.
”The Court rules that the location-specific prohibition on panhandling is unconstitutional, with two exceptions. The exceptions are that Arcata may continue to prohibit ‘panhandling’ within twenty feet of any unenclosed ATM, and Arcata may continue to prohibit ‘panhandling’ ‘in any public transportation vehicle,’” the ruling reads.
Public transit vehicles are not considered public fora, according to the ruling.
The court ruled that people using an ATM have their money and financial security at stake, and “… soliciting people while they are using ATMs heightens the feelings of duress and intimidation that can be felt by those solicited.”