City leaders finalized a new ordinance Monday they say is necessary for traffic safety, but some fear it is an attempt to ban panhandling and believe it will hurt the homeless.
The ordinance, modeled off rules enacted by other Oregon cities, would make it a traffic violation to give or take something from a car window while the vehicle is on the roadway. Violations come with a $75 fine.
“This would apply to whether it’s a Girl Scout, whether it’s a firefighter doing their (fill a) boot fundraiser, or any other individual who would approach a vehicle or the vehicle would stop to give something, money or goods,” Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding said.
“Again,” he added, “this is not an anti-panhandling ordinance. We are not trying to prohibit panhandling. We’re simply saying: Take it somewhere where the vehicle can park legally and do it safely. That’s all that we’re asking.”
But police have fielded complaints from places like Safeway, on the east end of town, and McDonald’s, on the west, about aggressive panhandlers and the frustration they have caused customers and drivers.
The McDonald’s drive-thru on Marine Drive is already a challenging place to turn.Police are worried about obstructed views for drivers and, in general, distracted drivers and the potential for road rage if a car ahead in a line of traffic stops abruptly to give someone money or food, Spalding said.
Bill Van Nostran, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church and a board member for the Astoria Warming Center, opposed the ordinance. He presented a resolution “regarding the treatment of those experiencing homelessness in Astoria” from the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee that he wrote with party activist Larry Taylor.
The resolution asked the City Council to abandon the ordinance given the homelessness crisis.
Later, Van Nostran said he agrees the ordinance is not a ban on panhandling, but he worries this will be the real-world effect.
Some people who are homeless have said they feel the city and business owners are using a few aggressive panhandlers to characterize the entire homeless community. They do not cause trouble at McDonald’s, but feel singled out because of how they look, they told The Daily Astorian following a meeting of Mayor Bruce Jones’ homelessness solutions task force in January where McDonald’s owner Todd Tobey spoke about his concerns.
On Monday, city councilors agreed with Spalding. They felt the traffic safety issue must be addressed, though several councilors said it was a difficult decision to make.
City Councilor Joan Herman said all the city is doing is asking people to park legally before giving someone a donation.
“That’s all,” she said. “I don’t see a big deal in that.”
Over the next 30 days, the city plans to put up signs at problem locations and reach out to people through social media and news publications before beginning to cite anyone.
Based on what other Oregon cities have experienced after enacting similar rules, Spalding expects he and his officers will not have to issue very many citations.