Wednesday, May 19

Transcript from 5/10 Panhandling Discussion

Below is the transcription from the 5/10 Iowa City Council meeting which included a second consideration of an "aggressive solicitation" ordinance modification, the details of which can be found here.

Hayek: This is second consideration, and staff has requested expedited action.
Bailey: Move second consideration.
Wright: Second.
Hayek: Moved by Bailey, seconded by Wright. Discussion? We clearly have some members of the public here, so…sign in or…or put your name on a sticker and put it on the, uh, book please, and state your name and…address us.
Klein: Uh, good evening again, Garry Klein again, and still at 628 2nd Avenue, as far as I know.
Hayek: And, Garry, I’m sorry to interrupt you. I’m going to ask that people limit their comments to three minutes tonight. Based on the late hour, and the number of people who apparently need to address us. (both talking) Just so everyone can get…
Klein: May I ask the Mayor if…if I run out at three minutes, can I come back for another three? Cause I know this is more than three minutes. I timed it.
Hayek: Yeah.
Klein: I was timing for five, but three I…
Hayek: We’ll play it by ear.
Klein: Okay. Okay, so uh, I…first of all, I wanted to thank everyone behind me for coming. I was surprised. This…when I sent you a letter, I understood I was the first correspondence that the City Council had heard from about this, uh, about this issue, other than the…the person who spoke at the last meeting. So when I sent that letter, uh, I did for three specific reasons. One, I wondered if this is an overkill measure, given my understanding that exactly zero, uh, aggressive panhandling citations have been issued, if I understood, uh, from the Council Members…I asked that question of…of that issue. So if we already have something that’s working, and we have three or four other ordinances that can be used if people get out of hand, why are we here tonight? Why are we here at this late hour? Um, secondly, as a person who’s been before this Council many times
on free speech issues, um, this further limitation of free speech, essentially putting people in the planters to keep them away from the entrances of businesses seems, again, to be, uh, not very promising given that these same folks may be our…our street musicians, as well as folks like student groups who are raising million…over a million dollars for things like, uh, dance marathon, as an example. Um, and finally, is this really fair to other businesses in downtown, I mean, we’re…we’re treating the ped mall as this very special place, where the rest of downtown has to kind of contend with the fallout when we keep making…making rule changes in that area. Um, so I can understand, given what I just heard about the, uh, from the money for block grant money why perhaps you haven’t heard from, uh, some of the non-profits and their issues. But I also…uh, I guess there are people, as you see behind me, who have a views…a viewpoint that differs from yours, or at least your first vote. So, I want you to think about the different between meaning well and acting well, because we all mean well. Everyone here means well, that’s why we’re here tonight. I think in making your first consideration you meant well…to make things better for the…for businesses on the ped mall. I understand there are issues. But for everybody I hear who says there’s a problem on the ped mall, I read something or see something on a community program that says, we love…here, can I give you a direct quote. This is from a…a tenant on the ped mall. Downtown is safe. I feel safe. Everybody watches out for each other. It’s not just a place to do business. It’s a place for friends to meet and to hangout. Well, a lot of people believe that, and that’s why they’re down there, and it’s not just about business, even for the business owners, apparently. I did contact the DTA to find out who are these people who said we need to do this now, and I was told, well, we’re not going to tell you, so I wonder, did they tell you? Uh, thirdly, um, you know, you have a Member on the Council who frankly may, in my estimation, at least have an ethical consideration in making a vote. Why? Because he has a business on the ped mall. Two he has, uh, in the past made statements about his feelings about panhandling, and how that affects his business. There’s an economic interest at play here. My concern then is that for fairness that…that that person really consider whether it’s through a moral compass or through a higher power, whether it’s appropriate to vote on this issue. Um, so…the last thing I’m going to say, and I’m going to move out and let other people talk, is that at the very least, you mention that this item is being asked to be expedited by staff. What I’m asking you to do is get more data, for crying out loud. If what I’m hearing here is zero people have been arrested on existing aggressive panhandling ordinance, why are we trying to make it harder? So having said that, I…my request to the Council is let’s separate these votes out. There may be more people who need to be heard from, including the Downtown Association. I’m…I’m not saying that I’m the arbiter of all things that are right about the City. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that there are people who are going to be affected, and it’s not just the…it’s not the usual suspects. And with that I’ll…I do want to, uh, give something to, uh, for you guys to look at. You may have seen this. It’s called preventing panhandling. There’s a lot of different ways we can approach this thing. It’s good information, and maybe we can try education over adjudication.
Hayek: Mr. Klein, for your information (applause) Mr. Klein, so that you and the others understand, there’s no present motion to consolidate the second and third readings of this item. The…the motion is to pass second consideration, which would still leave the third consideration for the next City Council meeting. (unable to hear person in audience)
Wright: Not tonight!
Hayek: Not tonight.
Fidelis: My name is Libris Fidelis, and of course I live downtown at Capitol House Apartments. Uh, I have made a previous correspondence, connection, uh, through the emails, uh, to the City Council, and I believe I spoke at one of the previous, uh, Council meetings, but I’m not sure if I did or not. The pending Iowa City ordinance concerning the allegations of panhandling, uh, is both labeled and prejudicially, uh, excessive in its effect upon denying basic United States’ civil and constitutional rights to a minority of this City’s impoverished citizens. In the four years that I have lived downtown in Capitol House Apartments, I have regularly, almost daily, made at least six or more round trips per week walking on the downtown sidewalks and right through the ped mall, which is now being labeled by the Sheraton Hotel as “City Plaza.” Those daily walks have been especially, going to the Wesley Center Free Lunch program on north Dubuque Street, and Capitol House Apartments, from Capitol House Apartments, uh, but also randomly I’ve been going to the Wedge for occasional breakfast, to the Iowa City Public Library, to the Bread Garden Market for groceries, to the Post Office, uh, to the Downtown Transit Center, to Old Capitol Mall and to various food establishments for meals. Never in my four years of walking downtown have I witnessed anything remotely resembling what is described in the proposed ordinance as aggressive behavior as the result of impoverished solicitations that have regularly been asking for charitable assistance from the public in presence. Yes, I have witnessed the very rare, occasional minor violent or threatening gang altercations in the ped mall area, but those are very rare, and has never involved impoverished solicitors who are regularly asking for charitable handout donations. There are two very serious civil rights denial issues that our City is attempting to press into, uh, ordinance. First is to deny the City, by City ordinance the right of certain minority citizens to be present in certain locations in our city. A second is to deny this, by City ordinance, the right of certain citizens to communicate their plight with the public, in the hope that some minor monetary aid will be forthcoming from an understanding and sympathetic public. Any restriction or denial of these two basic fundamental human and constitutional rights results in civic disqualification of citizenship rights upon a certain selected disadvantaged segment of our society. Such an act by ordinance if passed by Iowa City Council will be therefore a response to a perceived non-reality that the issue might concern public safety when directed to historically peaceful, impoverished solicitors. But rather, this is actually a personal vendetta by certain commercial
economic special interests, that originates from a dislike for seeing in the public presence the apparent low-income and non-income disadvantaged citizens who come to the central downtown area to solicit for generous but meager charitable assistance. The end result of this ordinance is, if approved, uh, by Iowa City Council, will be a prejudiced ordinance that is aimed at excluding citizenship on a particular segment of our society, just because of their personal appearance and activity to solicit charitable handouts in a typically peaceful manner. This committee, uh, Iowa City committee, uh, Iowa City Citizens Community Committee urges that this ordinance must be stopped now by a City Council vote against passage. It is both immoral and presents a caste making precedence for our city, which I believe will only result in a more probable civil rights lawsuit, which our City cannot win, and which will incur the wasted legal expenses thereto for our City to pay. Vote against this potentially tragic and defaming ordinance now. Thank you.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Smithers: Uh, my name is David Smithers. I’m from…I live in Wellman, so I’m an ex-urban Iowa Citian. Um, I’ve lived and worked and went to school in…the greater Iowa City area for nearly 40 years. At least five of those years, mostly in the 70s, I lived in Iowa City itself. Uh, the downtown of Iowa City together with the University of Iowa campus is a historic and vital commons. Not only to Iowa City, but essentially to the world. We’re a UNESCO Literature City (mumbled) to Iowa and to the nation. The commons needs to be protected in order to protect the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. The commons has existed in downtown Iowa City, and the U of I campus, in conjunction with commerce and residential usage, for over 150 years. Uh, changes in commerce have induced…include an influx of federal dollars. The urban renewal that started in the mid-60s and just ended not too long ago. Uh, to the present day. It has also seen changes in transportation, and the nature of the pedestrian experience. Much commerce has fled to the…the malls and the big box stores for sure, where there exists cheap land and free parking. The congregation of people in such commercial areas has not been (mumbled) by any notion of commons though, and that is a very mixed bless…blessing indeed. Free parking is no substitute for free speech and free assembly. And that’s the reason for people like me, and other people, go to downtown Iowa City to…to mingle and to shop and to eat and get Library books and so on. And, yes, occasionally people, uh, protest down there, and some people ask for help. It is, uh, a vital dynamic for this city and it’s part of our history. Now a dark cloud is closing in…over us, and I’m not just talking about volcanic clouds from Iceland, that’s bringing down our cold rain. Post-911 America has witnessed increased laws of security, especially security of property. Human rights, including economic human rights, has taken hits, such as English-only laws here in Iowa, where place immigration, enforcement raids, restrictions to protect and sometimes, um, restrict free speech, something called free speech zones. That was mentioned not too long here…long ago here in Iowa City, uh, a few winters ago in Des Moines, uh…homeless people were cleared out of their heated hooches by the City of Des Moines, in the dead of winter, and now Iowa City with, afraid of its increased socio-economic and ethnic diversity has spewed forth with curfews and prohibitions on youth groups, uh, congregation..congregating, and now increasing restrictions on homeless people, among them neglected veterans, asking for help. Two thoughts come to my mind, well…two things bother me. Arizona immigration laws, and now this! Uh, Iowa City becoming more, progressive Iowa City becoming more intolerant. One word comes to my mind, I hate to say it: boycott.
Hayek: Thank you.
Clark: Excuse me (noise on mic). Good evening, Mayor, Council Members, my name is Sarah Clark and I live in the, uh, northside of town. Iowa City already has an ordinance in effect that, um, which outlaws aggressive solicitation. I would like to see some evidence that the current ordinance has not been effective. Why is there a push for further restrictions? It seems to me that these changes are being driven by one organization’s perception that downtown can only be rescued by further restricting certain persons and their activities. I’m in downtown Iowa City several, uh, several times a week, often to visit businesses within the ped mall zone. Not once have I felt threatened by someone panhandling…panhandling. Nor have I ever been directly approached by anyone asking me for money. What I have seen on a number of occasions are one or two individuals sitting quietly near the curb holding a small sign asking for a donation. Are these persons aggressive, in their panhandling? No, they are not. Have…how have they reacted, have they reacted in an aggressive or threatening way when I acknowledge them, but say that I cannot give them a contribution? No, they do not. These proposed changes to the ordinance have already created some unintended consequences as evidenced by a letter to the editor in today’s Press-Citizen from University of Iowa Dance Marathon organizers. Are you now going to amend the proposed ordinance changes to provide exceptions for non-profit organizations? You head down a slippery slope when you begin to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable solicitors. I think these proposed changes are unworthy of the Iowa City I love. Rather than corral panhandlers into an even smaller area, wouldn’t it be more productive to provide information about local social services? One of the reasons I chose to move to Iowa City last year was because I knew it was not a ‘one flavor’ city where everyone looks and acts alike. The diversity of ped mall users, including panhandlers and solicitors from non-profit organizations contributes to the wonderful vitality that we enjoy in Iowa City. I believe the proposed ordinance would have a detrimental impact on that vitality, and I urge you to reject it. Thank you very much.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Bennett: Hi, I’m Darcy Bennett, the Executive Business Director of Dance Marathon, and I’m just here to inform you on how the panhandling ordinance could go ahead and affect our organization, as well as other non-profit organizations. We are a
student-run philanthropy that raises funds for children with cancer, pediatric oncology patients and their families, treated at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The money that we raise goes directly to the Hospital and the community surrounding it with the…area families who are treated here. For the last three years we have raised over a million dollars each year for pediatric cancer families and patients. With the money raised we provide financial, emotional, and social support to these families. There are many programs that have been implemented with this, including child life assistance, summer programs for oncology patients and their siblings, and hospital renovations. We also fund a lot of the small things, like a dinner every other Sunday night, and parking vouchers for hospital ramps that can really mean a lot to families who are staying in our hospital for weeks to months at a time. We recently donated $1 million actually to the University of Iowa College of Medicine to fund renovations to a research laboratory and to the establishment of a research fund. We work year-round to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, and during the weekend in February, we celebrate the lives of those children who have passed before us, and who are here with us today, in a 24-hour event. In order for students to join our event, they are required to raise $400, and much of this money is raised from our downtown panhandling, as you may call it. In the past years we’ve raised up to $30,000 per year with this downtown panhandling, and even though that doesn’t sound like much to a million dollar organization, it really, truly is. In…to put it in perspective, uh, we spent $30,000 per year for holiday gift cards that are donated just to the families so they can go ahead and provide presents and different things for their children around the holidays. We understand the main objective of this ordinance, but it does pose problems for a non-profit organization, like ourselves, and many others. One of the fundraisers that we, as I have mentioned earlier, do is kind of called ‘canning’ where we ask dancers or student participants to ask for donations in the pedestrian mall from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. This opportunity allows students of any socio-economic status to raise funds for pediatric oncology, as well as continued participation in an educationally beneficial activity during the late-night and weekend hours. This new ordinance would greatly decrease the amount of participants allowed to fundraise in this manner. We normally would have 30 students out on one night and this may decrease down to 10 students on a particular night. And, many students in our organization really do rely on this source of fundraising, as many of our dancers, including myself, do not have wealthy family members who can go ahead and cut a check for $400 in order for them to participate in our event. For this reason it is really important that we do offer this opportunity to students to be able t supplement their own fundraising costs, and as necessary be able to raise the full amount through downtown ‘canning.’ Not only will this decrease our student participation, but it may also affect the amount of money we are able to give back to the Iowa City and University of Iowa community, as you’ve heard previously. We are constantly revising the ‘canning’ program to abide by City ordinances and the University of Iowa cash handling stipulations. We’ll be willing to make adjustments as you feel necessary to please the general public; however, if this is passed in the current format it could directly impact the amount of money we are able to raise in our downtown ‘canning’ program. So, as a result, we would just like to ask you to possibly think of a revision for this for non-profit organizations or I don’t know all of the stipulations behind everything, so just kind of consider us when you’re thinking about passing this ordinance. And I would like to thank you for your time and just ask you to consider us, as well as the pediatric families and patients.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Fiegen: Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council, my name again is Tom Feegan from greater Iowa City. Given the late hour, let me be brief. I have two concerns about your ordinance. The first relates to the First Amendment. We have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it appears to me that this ordinance, including the tightening of the panhandling, is a abridgement of that right. The second is, the ped mall in our fine city is a unique public space. One of the prior speakers referred to it as a ‘commons.’ And, it is that, and it offers to all of us, all citizens of Iowa, all visitors to Iowa City, a unique patchwork that includes people that may be offensive to some of us, that may be different than all of us, but they are part of Iowa. They are part of Iowa City, and this ordinance in essence seeks to push them into the shadows, because there may be some inconvenience. There may be some uncomfortableness, and I would say to you as the elected representatives of this city and this patchwork quilt that you do not pass the second reading of this ordinance, and you do not shunt these people who are human beings into the dark corners of Iowa City, but allow them to be part of the patchwork that is our ped mall, that is our downtown. Thank you. (applause)
Hayek: Anyone else wishing to address the Council? Briefly, Garry!
Klein: It will be very brief. I…I wanted to offer…I was about to say a fig leaf, but that would be inappropriate. A, uh, a…olive branch! That’s what I was looking for (laughter). I don’t know biblical stuff; I get confused (laughter). Uh…but, one of the things that I did pay attention to is, you know, I look at things that have been successful in our city. One of the things that has been successful for the DTA has been the shop, or..and actually the Chamber of Commerce as well, is the shop local or the 350 programs, and I got to thinking, if…if we really believe that our social services could be better served by educating the public, and…and I really mean that. By having posters, having flyers, having information on the DTA’s web site, you know, because we, let’s face it, panhandlers are some of the most web literate people I know, and uh, and so it’s about where are…where are resources available. So, part of it is not to…I’m not a…I don’t want to be in the business of shutting people up, so much as I want to be in the business of helping them have better information, make decisions, and I know given, uh, a lot of things that were said tonight, and things you’ve been working on tonight, you like to…you like to have data to drive your decisions. As I said earlier, I feel in this particular case the data isn’t helping you here. It’s the anecdotal information that seems to be driving the decision. I think we would all feel better, uh, if this decision was based on fact rather than, uh, observation. So with that, again, I…I ask, I, like everyone else, I would love for you to change your minds and vote against, uh, this particular ordinance so that we don’t need a third reading, but if, you know, if…if you feel the need to have more people come visit you, I suppose we could do that! So, thanks so much!
Hayek: Thank you, Garry. Council?
Dickens: I could recuse myself, but I…I have a real hard time doing that. I…I’m downtown all the time. Some of you people come downtown occasionally. I’m there 330 days a year. I do get some Sundays off, um…I was, uh, I was…had an aggressive panhandler just come up to me last week. I was heading down to pick up my packet a week ago Thursday, and he would not back off. And finally I said, I’m on my way to the City Hall, if you want to follow me down, you’re more than welcome. So there is still some aggressive panhandling going on. Um, I see it all the time. I will recuse myself from voting on this, but I will not remain silent on it, because I live and breathe it every day and our customers, and non-customers, people that are just downtown, will come in our store to get away from some people, because they are still very aggressive. I would say overall it’s gotten a lot better. And I think it has, and those people sitting down, I know most of those people. I say ‘hi’ to them every day. I don’t have a problem with those. It’s still the aggressive, and they’re not…they’re not giving up. And, that’s the only reason…I will not vote on this, but I will not remain silent.
Dilkes: Let me just say one thing with respect to…to this, um…if I had thought that Mr. Dickens had a legally compelled conflict of interest I would have advised him as much. Um, I…I don’t. Um, clearly the decision to recuse himself though is his.
Wright: Terry, if I could just…step in. The aggressive panhandling already is illegal, um, what we’re talking about here is further restrictions, and that’s where I really start having a big problem with this ordinance. Um, for a bunch of reasons, uh, and I’ll probably rehash to a certain extent what I’ve said before, but we’re focusing first of all a group of people that’s essentially powerless. Uh, they have no economic clout of this community. They’re down on the street asking for money. That’s really not a fun way to make a living. I’ve talked with some of these folks. I know what kind of abuse they take. Uh, and the aggressive incident you spoke about is already illegal under our existing ordinance. Um, furthermore, I feel this is just a, yet one more whack against First Amendment rights to free speech. Panhandling is protected speech in the United States. Uh, I think the…unfortunate thing that we’re facing here…is that very frequently panhandlers are not well dressed. They don’t have good haircuts. They’re coats are dirty. They make us feel uncomfortable, and I think that’s what we’re really talking about here. It’s not a matter of safety downtown from the panhandlers. Uh, I…I said it the last time and I…I still agree with it this time, I find the…I’m sure the intentions behind this ordinance were good, but I think its overall affect is still mean-spirited and small-minded and the Council should be embarrassed that we’re even talking about it.
Hayek: I, um…I have legal training. I take First Amendment issues very seriously, um, our City Attorney’s office, which has…approved this, um, ordinance, uh, takes First Amendment issues very seriously, as well. In my estimation, um, this is both constitutional and reasonable. It allows solicitation to continue, uh, in the downtown area. Um, I am…I’m not interested in exceptions. I think that is a slippery slope. We cannot say that certain people can be within an area and others, uh, cannot as it relates to this ordinance. And that will impact toward the non-profits. Um, you will still be able to solicit, uh, in the designated areas within the entire city plaza, um, so based on that, I will continue to support this. But I…I appreciate the views of those who feel very strongly about this, and uh, I’m glad you showed up tonight, and I’m glad that the City Council will, uh, follow its tradition of…of making sure we have ample opportunity for public input on a very important issue.
Wilburn: The only piece that I would, uh, add, or highlight, is that um, as you had said, Mr. Mayor, it still allows, um, panhandling in that strip within the middle of the ped mall, so, but there is some reduction, um, and that piece that I added last time was that…aspect that we have in terms of balancing, um, balancing rights, and that’s between, um, the businesses and the individuals that have come forward, uh, with concerns, um, about aggressive panhandling to help try and provide some type of (mumbled) in terms of ease…um, ease of clarifying where…where it cannot occur in the pedestrian mall. Um, that’s the only piece that I would add.
Hayek: No further discussion?
Bailey: Well, the commons requires a balancing act and we’re fortunate that we still have a commons in downtown Iowa City. Many cities have turned their pedestrian plazas or the city plaza that is legally and technically called, they’ve turned them back into vehicular traffic. I was just reading today about, I think it was Sacramento, has gone back to vehicular traffic in their pedestrian plaza. Um, and what I’m seeing in our downtown, which concerns me, um, because I love our downtown, is a fragile economic environment right now. We are fortunate to have so many local businesses down there, and that balancing act between people who want customers coming in their business and feeling comfortable…I always feel comfortable downtown. I’ve never been downtown where I haven’t felt comfortable, but I also have, you know, parents in town who don’t feel comfortable coming downtown, and I understand their perspective. Some of it is, oh, people don’t look like us and they look a little different, and I get that, and I can, you know, say Mom, come on, but I don’t want them to feel unsafe, and I understand that important balancing act with this. There’s still an area that’s designated. It’s still balancing rights, and it’s balancing issues. I’m glad to hear from everybody tonight who’s concerned about our community, because that’s what it takes to build community, and I know that many of you think I’m wrong, but I am going to continue to support this, in support of our wonderful locally owned businesses downtown in this very challenging and difficult economic time.
Wilburn: And there is the education…I forgot there is the education component related to this, involving the parking meters, which I think everyone does support, and those resources will go to some of the, uh, non-profits that are working with, uh, providing support for some individuals, and uh, and I do agree with (mumbled) no exceptions.
Hayek: Anything further? Roll call, please. Item passes 4-1, Dickens abstaining.

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