St. Pete moves to crack down on panhandlers

01/10/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

The St. Petersburg City Council today voted unanimously to create an ordinance that would expand a ban on panhandling in downtown St. Pete.

The boundaries begin west near the Holocaust Museum and east to the Pier, while going north to the Vinoy Hotel. Downtown mainstays like Baywalk are also included.

City Attorney John Wolfe told the Council he was comfortable how the lines have been drawn. Wolfe said the ordinance is being crafted on what Ft. Lauderdale has done, and the boundaries are part of where tourists are likely to congregate in downtown St. Pete.

Only two members of the public commented on the boundaries; both said they’d like to expand the boundaries where panhandling would be banned.

Michael Johnson is the director of the downtown Neighborhood Association. He wanted the boundaries expanded to 5th Avenue North down to 5th Avenue South.

City Attorney Wolfe said once the new Salvadore Dali Museum opens, the boundaries of the panhandling ordinance could be expanded, but he had legal concerns.

Daniel O’Brian, a local architect, said he was excited about the new ordinance. He said he was worried that new areas of downtown could be "stifled" because of where panhandling would now be allowed.

City Councilman Jeff Danner said he believed that a lot of people currently aren’t aware of the current laws against panhandling in downtown St. Pete, and he hoped that could be incorporated in the new ordinance.

City Council Chairman Jamie Bennett said the expanded ordinance on banning panhandling had been a process that might have taken longer than the general public wanted.

Bruce Wright is a homeless advocate in St. Petersburg. He asks, not entirely facetiously, whether the City has any intentions of arresting those who ask for directions downtown.

Also today the City proposed changes for first reading. They include giving the power to seize private property from the homeless, and forbidding people from sleeping, lying down or even reclining on public rights of way in downtown St. Pete.

Advocate Bruce Wright wonders if these new laws will be aimed at anybody besides the homeless.

These new provisions will come before the Council one more time before becoming law. The Rev. Bruce Wright plans on committing to protests to stop them from becoming city law.

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