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Boise Officials Rekindling Stricter Panhandling Proposals, Public Will Weigh In Tuesday

Boise Weekly learned that an independent review by the nonpartisan, nonprofit City Hall Fellows found the majority of key merchants polled said an identical ordinance in San Francisco had "not been effective "


Officials at Boise City Hall, still convinced that the city has a panhandling problem, are taking yet another crack at proposing new laws that have seen dubious results in other communities which instituted the same crackdowns.

This coming Tuesday, July 30, the Boise City Council will give the public an opportunity to weigh in on two proposed ordinances to "help curb harassing or unsafe solicitations of money, sitting and lying on sidewalks." Staff from the city's legal department had initially proposed three ordinances; but now, two of the three have been consolidated "to avoid unnecessary overlap and confusion."

As an example, the proposed Civil Sidewalks Ordinance would prohibit sitting on publicly owned infrastructures, such as trash cans, or lying on the pavement within 10 feet of a building entrance or exit, or parking lot driveway.

But the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance has an interesting origin, copied from cities that have little, if anything, in common with Boise.

"This particular ordinance is adopted after similar ordinances in Santa Cruz [N.M.] and San Francisco," Assistant Boise City Attorney Ralph Blount told council members during a May 21 workshop session.

But Boise Weekly learned that an independent review conducted in March 2012 by the nonpartisan, nonprofit City Hall Fellows found the majority of key San Francisco merchants polled said the ordinance had "not been effective at abating aggressive panhandling, soliciting or loitering in the proximity of their businesses." Additionally, at the busiest of San Francisco's police stations, 90 percent of ordinance citations were issued to repeat violators of the law and more than half were issued to just four individuals who were chronically homeless and struggling with significant health conditions. Furthermore, 58 percent of merchants said that the number of individuals sitting in front of their businesses has stayed the same or increased since the law was enacted.

What's more, the city of Boise already has a panhandling ordinance. Title 6, Chapter 1, Section 7 of the existing Boise City Code, makes it a misdemeanor to "beg in a public place with the intent to intimidate another into giving money or goods" or to "obstruct pedestrians or vehicular traffic in a public place."

Additionally, Title 6, Chapter 1, Section 9 of the Code makes it a misdemeanor for "tumultuous or offensive conduct," better known as disturbing the peace.

Following Tuesday's hearing, which begins at 6 p.m., the Council will consider whether to place the ordinances on a reading calendar for formal consideration.

During a May 21 City Hall workshop discussion on the issue, more than one citizen needed to be escorted out of the room by law enforcement when they expressed their displeasure.

"Folks, we're going to have a full hearing on this," said Mayor Dave Bieter at the time. "You'll get an opportunity to testify."