City Council and city attorney discuss ideas for new ordinances to limit soliciting and loitering
The King City City Council took its first steps toward managing a panhandling problem that appears to be growing.
At its July 16 meeting, local residents Jack and Donna Kloster complained about panhandling in the city and said they expected the city to take action to deal with the issue, so council members agreed by consensus to direct city staff to work with the city attorney to draft ordinances to deal with loitering and public safety plus a permit process for soliciting in King City.
At the Aug. 6 council meeting, City Attorney Shelby Rihala came ready to discuss a July 23 memorandum she had written dealing with panhandling on roadways, door-to-door solicitations and business licenses or permits, noting that the since 99W falls under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Transportation, King City can do nothing about panhandlers in those medians, even if they are right at King City's front door.
According to the memorandum, pedestrians in "improper positions" in the roadway when a sidewalk or shoulder is available are committing a Class D traffic violation under Oregon law, with exceptions for hitchhikers, litter clean-up crews and groups that apply to ODOT for a pedestrian activity permit, such as firefighters engaged in a "Fill the Boot" campaign. The minimum fine is $60 with a presumptive fine of $110.
"The issue is not the speech, but rather it is the potential risk to public safety by having pedestrians in dangerous areas of the highways," Rihala stated in the memo.
The First Amendment guarantees free speech, "and as long as people are out of the traffic lane holding a sign, it is free speech," Rihala said. "If they step into the road to accept money, then they are violating the law."
Councilor Darrel Unruh suggested, "Could we make the median a safety zone?" and Rihala responded, 'That has potential."
The next step is to draft an ordinance for the City Council's review.
As for door-to-door solicitations, a total prohibition is unconstitutional and unenforceable, according to Rihala.
But for example, Tualatin has taken the approach that people are violating city code if they try to solicit at a home with a posted "no soliciting" sign if they are selling goods or services, but the code does not prevent religious groups, politicians and those wanting to share information from knocking on doors.
West Linn prohibits all forms of solicitation before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. and prohibits people from leaving written materials at homes with "no soliciting" signs.
"The U.S. Supreme Court likes the idea of people saying that they don't want to talk to you," said Rihala, adding that King City could adopt a law requiring a business permit to conduct door-to-door sales but not a blanket permit banning all forms of solicitation.
"We can only ban sales, not religious groups," she added. "I like what Tualatin and West Linn have done. How much speech does King City want to regulate? Do you like West Linn's idea of limiting hours? I think 9 to 9 is a much better approach."
City Manager Dave Wells commented, "I see this as a two-pronged approach - regulations and licensing agreements. We could send this to all the homeowner associations. I think we are giving pretty good direction," and Rihala suggested even making the hours of solicitation 9 .m. to 8 p.m.
Finally, in her memo, Rihala stated, "On the enforcement side, if the city pursued enforcing this kind of ordinance, it would have to ensure that it did so equally. For example, if a Girl Scout knocked on a door with a 'no solicitation' sign, she would have to be cited just the same as any other person. Otherwise, the city could open itself to liability for selectively enforcing the ordinance."