Seaside City Council members tabled an amendment to the itinerant merchant ordinance after testimony from numerous citizens, as well as the audible support the speakers received from the audience during Monday’s meeting.
During the public hearing, words such as “wrong,” “brutal,” “discriminatory” and “a street-sweeping technique” were used to describe the amendment, which expands the definition of “itinerant merchant” to include anyone who “provides a service (entertainment, etc.) or solicits for any form of compensation or remuneration.” Those people would have to pay $50 per day or as much as $1,000 per year for a permit. This definition would encompass panhandlers, which were the main source of concern for many.
“Draconian policies against the homeless are not the answer,” Mary Eng said during the public hearing, “We need humanitarian solutions.”
Many aspects of the ordinance have been in effect since it was adopted in 1984. In general, it regulates the buying and selling or merchandise by individuals who do not have a fixed location.
Currently the code entirely bans begging or soliciting on the streets or in any public place under a different ordinance. The amendment to the itinerant merchant regulation would allow that activity — as long as the individual has obtained a permit. The fees remain unchanged.
The definition of temporary fixed location would change to “any business location, public or private” and the amendment also would prohibit activities associated with the permit from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Additionally, the amendment adds a new exception to limit licensing during high-traffic times.
The penalty for violating the ordinance is $500; the amendment would increase that to to $700.
Most of the nearly dozen speakers took issue with the idea of requiring panhandlers and street performers, many of whom don’t make $50 per day, to pay for a permit. For some who spoke, the change carries implications about how individuals and society should approach poverty and homelessness.
“This is not a monetary issue, it’s a morality issue,” said Todd Irving, a traveling street performer known as Funkplastic.
Lisa Dooney, of Portland, said if community residents are concerned about panhandling or seeing homeless people on the streets, this isn’t the way to handle it. No ordinance will make them disappear, she said.
“The way I was raised, it didn’t matter if a person was begging or asking for help. You didn’t ask if it went for booze, or drugs, or cigarettes or toilet paper. It didn’t matter. What mattered was a person was asking for some help,” Dooney said.
Additionally, many took issue with the $50-per-day charge, which Irving said is “unprecedented.” Sam Condron agreed, adding the way the amendment is written seems to be aimed directly at excluding from Seaside homeless people who don’t have an option except to solicit money from passers-by.
“By charging them $50 per day, you’re making that cost-prohibitive,” he said. “You’re making it cost-prohibitive for them to live, to eat, to sustain life. That’s not fair to anybody.”
Anne Danen, a working mother of two, also confronted the message she believes would be sent by passing the amendment.
“We want our nice, little town to appear to be something other than what it is,” she said, later adding, “I can’t afford $50 per day. If I can’t, what makes you think they can? Oh, but that’s right — that’s the point, isn’t it?”
Those concerns were echoed by several people in the audience who engage in panhandling and said paying $50 per day would be too much of a burden.
A few people offered possible solutions or different ways to mitigate panhandling and help homeless individuals.
“For me, pushing the envelope in terms of getting the housing and the food and the resources and the humanity to the people is a worthwhile cause,” Eng said.
Irving and others talked about similar permits for panhandlers or street performers in other cities that carry a yearly fee of up to $127, which might be more practical.
Seaside resident Angela Fairless also spoke against the council’s tendency to do multiple readings in a single meeting — as was done with this ordinance June 29 — because it allows less time for public awareness and involvement. She described it as “a slap in the face of democracy,” and suggested councilors take more time to work through the process, especially when dealing with complicated or convoluted issues.
For instance, Fairless said, this ordinance would apply to children selling seashells or lemonade from a stand, and she suggested there could be an exemption for them.
Irving said the council needs to discuss what to do with the money brought in by the fees. He suggested putting it toward creating positive recreational outlets for youth.
After the public hearing, the councilors voted unanimously to table the ordinance to take the received comments under consideration.
No one spoke in favor of the ordinance, but Seaside Police Chief Dave Ham said the department gets numerous calls from people complaining about panhandlers and who see it as a livability issue.