Bakersfield business owners happy panhandling law was approved

After months of discussion, Bakersfield leaders have reached a decision that will help a growing problem of panhandling downtown.

Beginning on May 17, an aggressive ban will make it illegal for a panhandler to ask anyone for money near banks, ATMs and parking lots.

Business owners said this will give them more tools to get panhandlers off their property.

"We will first give them a warning and tell them to please leave our property. Eventually, if they get too aggressive, we will now have teeth to go and ask the police to come out an issue them a citation or warning," said Bob Bell, downtown business property owner.

Law enforcement said a panhandling call will not be their first priority. When officers are available to respond, the ordinance will give them the ability to assist businesses plagued by aggressive panhandling.

"It can be cited as a misdemeanor or infraction and in most cases, short of there being an arrest warrant or some other offense, most of the time we will be citing for it," said Sergeant Joe Grubbs of the Bakersfield Police Department.

However, even though organizations like the Kern County Homeless Collaborative are against people giving handouts to those claiming to be needy or homeless, they say the Ordnance could hinder their efforts.

"This will make it difficult for us to get people into housing. Because now they will have citations on the record which will make it difficult for us to assist them," said Jim Wheeler of the Homeless Collaborative.

The collaborative, who has been instrumental in reducing homelessness in many parts of town, was hoping the City Council delayed their decision, so they could do more outreach in the downtown area first.

"We would have been able to weed out the people who are truly homeless and the panhandlers that are just hucksters, looking to make a living off of others," said Wheeler.

Downtown business leaders said this has never been about the homeless or needy, but always about those who aggressively ask people for money.

Businesses will now have to put up the appropriate signage that reflects the new ordinance.

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