Centralia councilors took steps Tuesday to modify an ordinance meant to stop panhandling on city streets, a response to concerns that the original measure targets a single class of people.
“You’re telling panhandlers they can’t be in the street, but you’re allowing other activities to take place in the street,” said city attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson. “We don’t want to be seen as doing that.”
The council unanimously passed on first reading a replacement ordinance that bans all pedestrian activity on city roadways.
Murphy-Olson said the city was contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union over the original 2017 ordinance, which only outlawed solicitation of drivers. In addition to keeping the city in good standing legally, the change addresses safety concerns, she said, especially in busy areas like on and off ramps.
“We see a lot of First Amendment activity taking place on our sidewalks, and that’s where it should be,” she said. “They are very busy places now. You don’t want to have people caught on the sides there getting hit by a vehicle.”
Councilor Peter Abbarno asked if the new ordinance would put a stop to local firefighters’ “Fill the Boot” fundraising efforts. Murphy-Olson said it would keep them off the streets, but firefighters had already raised concerns about traffic safety during the event and were amenable to moving it to a parking lot.