In response to increasing resident complaints of aggressive solicitations by a growing homeless population in the city the Menifee, the city council passed the first reading of an ordinance May 3, prohibiting certain forms of solicitation.
The proposed ordinance was introduced at the last city council meeting in April but sent back to staff for some clarification and approval by law enforcement and social agencies. Staff reported the proposed ordinance had been “vetted” by the agencies and could move forward toward approval.
The ordinance does not prohibit solicitations entirely or charitable acts but does so in certain locations of the city where the act has been considered a “nuisance” or where solicitors have been overly aggressive in their actions bringing some fear to the public. Nonprofit agencies, such as the Girl Scouts, and some charitable groups will still be able to solicit in front of business establishments with the businesses’ permission.
The proposed ordinance said, “The city council finds ‘aggressive solicitation’ is unsafe and disruptive to persons in the city of Menifee and is a threat to public health, safety and general welfare.” With this statement, the ordinance restricts solicitations within 25 feet of any financial institution during business hours or anytime at any automated teller machine facility, in parking lots and parking structures, where public transportation vehicles stop or within 50 feet of any regular public transportation stop, at gasoline stations and fuel pumps, driveways accessing shopping centers, retail and business establishments or from an occupant or operator of vehicle entering or leaving the center, in medians or parkways whether lingering or loitering there, at dining establishments or in any outdoor dining area and no solicitation in any public park or improved public trail at any time.
The ordinance does offer exceptions to the ruling.
The ordinance describes soliciting, asking or begging as “using the spoken, written or printed word, or bodily gestures, signs or other means with the purpose of obtaining an immediate donation of money or other thing of value or soliciting the sale of goods or services.”
The ordinance makes the exceptions in the right of people to exercise protected free speech, the lawful vending of goods and services, solicitations related to business authorized by or conducted by the property owner, business owner or employees on the premises, solicitations related to the lawful towing of a vehicle or solicitations related to emergency repairs requested by the operator or other occupant of a motor vehicle.
The staff in writing the ordinance also described what is meant by “aggressive behavior” by a solicitor.
It includes approaching or speaking to a person, following a person before, during or after soliciting, asking or begging that may cause them to fear bodily harm to oneself or to another, damage to or loss of property or otherwise intimidating someone into giving money or other thing of value.
Other forms of prohibited aggression include intentionally touching or causing physical contact with another person or an occupied vehicle without that person’s consent in soliciting, asking or begging, intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle by any means or unreasonably causing a pedestrian or vehicle operator to take evasive action to avoid physical contact.
Aggressive behavior also means “using violent or threatening gestures toward a person solicited either before, during or after soliciting, asking or begging; persisting in closely following or approaching a person, after the person being solicited has been solicited and informed the solicitor by words or conduct that such person does not want to be solicited or does not want to give money or any other thing of value to the solicitor or using profane, offensive or abusive language which is inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, either before, during, or after solicitation in any public place,” the ordinance states.
The ordinance, while not spelling out specifically any monetary fines, does say the illegal solicitor would be issued an administrative citation alleging their guilt in violating the city of Menifee municipal code and subject to application punishments pursuant to Chapter 1.03 of the Menifee municipal code. It does not preclude the enforcing officer to pursue and other applicable laws or remedies available.
In the staff report, it was explained that the ordinance was created after studying similar ordinances passed and approved by other surrounding cities that have been effective in curtailing some overly aggressive solicitations in their areas.
The draft ordinance will now be returned to council later in May for a second and final reading along with a marketing campaign to educate the public on “responsible compassion for the homeless.” The council was provided a sample of a door hanger that would be used to spearhead the Menifee Homeless Task Force led by the Community Services Department to educate residents of the “do’s and don’ts” of responsible giving.