Kennewick City Council votes to limit panhandling

Panhandling at certain busy Kennewick intersections no longer will be allowed starting next week.

The Kennewick City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved new restrictions on soliciting money.

The ban on solicitation within 250 feet of the intersections of Highway 395 and Kennewick Avenue, Highway 395 and Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Drive and Washington Street goes into effect in five days.

"We are focusing on the safety factor," said Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.

Those intersections are ones where there is no safe place for vehicles to pull to the side when someone is asking for money or selling something, said Kelly Walsh, Kennewick assistant city attorney.

Hohenberg said those intersections also are where Kennewick police get the most calls about solicitations.

The new ordinance is an effort to try to give police more tools to deal with panhandlers.

The ban also applies 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.

Aggressive solicitations such as knocking on vehicle windows or intruding into someone's personal space, soliciting in those restricted areas and intentionally obstructing traffic or pedestrians will be considered misdemeanors.

Councilman Bob Parks said he thinks the ordinance is a good step. The issue with panhandlers appears to be more prevalent, especially around the intersection of Highway 395 and Clearwater Avenue, he said.

Police first try to make sure the person doesn't need help. But Hohenberg said it's rare to find someone who actually wants a bus ticket, food voucher or shelter.

"They want cash," he said.

Hohenberg said police will get information from the person so that if he or she is contacted by another officer or found in violation again, police will know they were already warned.

Parks asked if youth group fundraisers would fall under the ordinance.

But Hohenberg said that most of those groups get permission to hold their fundraisers in parking lots, so there is a place for cars to safely pull out of traffic. Those aren't the sort of things police tend to get calls on, he said.

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

The city council would have to approve any additions to prohibited areas, if those areas are found to be a safety concern, Hohenberg said.