Kennewick may limit begging in some areas

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 13, 2013 

Panhandlers might no longer be able to beg for money at some busy Kennewick intersections, including Highway 395 at Clearwater and Kennewick avenues.

The Kennewick City Council discussed Tuesday creating areas where soliciting money would not be allowed and banning aggressive solicitation.

The areas targeted by the proposed ordinance are ones where Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said they receive the most complaints about begging and where there just isn't a safe place for drivers to stop.

Under the proposal, solicitation would be banned within 250 feet of the intersections of Highway 395 and Kennewick Avenue, Highway 395 and Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Drive and Washington Street, said Kelly Walsh, Kennewick assistant city attorney.

"Any solicitation at those corners are dangerous," the chief said.

The ban also would apply within 25 feet of an ATM or a financial institution, on Columbia Center Boulevard between Clearwater and Arrowhead avenues and on 27th Avenue between Highway 395 and South Quillan Street, she said.

Aggressive solicitation, soliciting in those restricted areas and intentionally obstructing vehicle or pedestrian traffic would be considered misdemeanors under the proposal, Walsh said.

"This is another tool in our toolbox as a police officer," Hohenberg said.

Offers to help connect panhandlers to social services often are refused and in most cases, the majority of panhandlers want money, not the food, shelter or bus ticket they are asking for, Hohenberg said.

Some panhandlers have knocked on cars while trying to solicit money, Hohenberg said. That would be considered being aggressive, along with intruding into personal space, continuing to ask for money, following someone and anything that would make a reasonable person feel unsafe, he explained.

"We have a lot of good spirited, good hearted people who end up giving people money because they are intimidated," he said.

The proposal also should help prevent collisions caused by sudden stopping or solicitors getting hit by vehicles, Hohenberg said.

Drivers get upset when there is a green light and they can't go because a panhandler is in the street getting money from another driver, he said.

Seattle and Spokane have similar ordinances concerning intentional traffic obstruction and aggressive solicitation, Walsh said. Seattle's has been upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The ordinance would not affect activities approved by the city, such as parades, and it would not limit the right to picket or protest, Walsh said.

Kennewick City Councilman Paul Parish said the ordinance is needed.

Other intersections could be added to restricted areas if complaints are received and they seem to be a safety risk, Hohenberg said.

The council may vote on the proposal in March.

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