Downtown stakeholders support no-panhandling ordinance

There was broad support from those who spoke at an initial public input meeting regarding a possible city ordinance prohibiting panhandling downtown Tuesday.

Before the city administrators present the ordinance at an informal city council meeting Monday, the Downtown Partnership wanted to get input from stakeholders, said downtown partnership executive director Ron Butlin. The ordinance is on the formal council agenda for July 10.

About a dozen supporters said that they hoped the ordinance would pass.

“It damages downtown’s reputation,” said Johnathan Shankland, manager of The Famous Steakhouse.

He said that if he had a customer whose behavior bothered other patrons and interfered with their experience, he would ask that customer to modify his behavior or to leave the restaurant. And that’s what he said he hopes the ordinance can do for downtown.

Meredith Vaughan, who owns advertising agency Vladimir Jones downtown, said the predominance of panhandlers is an embarrassment when she has out-of-state clients fly in for meetings. She even paid a group of panhandlers in front of her building $20 each to stay away for the day when she had an important client meeting, she said.

Others complained of aggressive panhandling tactics, which are already illegal.

Jack Miller, who owns Jack Miller Jewelry Designs, said he’s had panhandlers come inside his store to ask customers for money. He’s followed cursing and drunken panhandlers down the street and reported them to police.

The key to a new, more comprehensive panhandling law would be enforcement, he said.

Colorado Springs Police Commander Pat Rigdon said the law would likely be enforced the same way the aggressive panhandling ordinance is. Panhandlers probably wouldn’t act in front of uniformed officers, so people would have to report them and officers would need to find them.

Rigdon said the Homeless Outreach Team is familiar with a lot of the people who panhandle downtown.

“So a description will go a long way,” he said.

But people will still have to sign a complaint and be willing to appear in court.

Rigdon added that the ordinance does not exist yet. The city attorney is working to carefully draft it before presenting it to council Monday.

“Soliciting is a constitutionally protected action,” he said.