MLT City Council considering ordinance that would make panhandling illegal on busy roadways

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    panhandling map Exhibit_A_
    The streets where panhandling would be illegal under the proposed Mountlake Terrace ordinance.

    Panhandling by pedestrians would be illegal on certain roadways and intersections in Mountlake Terrace under a draft ordinance discussed during the City Council’s work/study session Thursday night.

    The council will consider whether to approve the measure during its business meeting Monday, Dec. 21. The complete agenda for that meeting is here.

    In Thursday’s presentation to the council, Deputy Police Chief Pete Caw noted that the ordinance is being proposed to address “serious public safety risks” posed by individuals collecting money at busy intersections throughout the city, including on- and off-ramps to Interstate 5, particularly during peak commute hours.

    In areas near Interstate 5, traffic counts are as high as 31,000 vehicles per day, Caw said, and pedestrians soliciting donations on busy streets cause both a public safety concern and disrupt efficient traffic flow.

    “The danger becomes multiplied and very evident when these individuals step into the traffic or reach into the traffic lane to engage with drivers,” he said. “The driver stops and donates something to the solicitor; the solicitor has to reach into the traveled portion of the roadway to accept that. There’s no other way to get it.”

    City code enforcement officers spent hours during the months of August and September observing solicitors on the areas of 220th and I-5 and west to Highway 99, keeping track of how many times folks reached into traffic lanes and accepted “goods or funds” from drivers. This happened three to eight times an hour, and many of those contacts resulted in drivers slowing or stopping, impeding the flow of traffic.

    Caw also pointed to the “secondary effects” of this type of solicitation, including trash left behind by those standing near the roadways. There is also a connection between panhandlers and the homeless encampments located near the areas where solicitations are made. The city bears the cost of cleaning up these encampments, which are filled with garbage, human waste, drug paraphernalia, blood-borne pathogens and stolen property, Caw noted.

    The ordinance would apply to the following areas, as indicated by the map above:

    • 212th from Highway 99 to 44th Street Southwest.
    • 220th Street Southwest from Highway 99 to 52nd Avenue Southwest
    • 236th Street Southwest from I-5 to Cedar Way
    • 244th from I-5 to Cedar Way

    If approved by the council, anyone soliciting in these areas who reaches into traffic to receive donations would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The city would start with a period of education aimed at those who are soliciting, for at least 30 days, and give those breaking the law a copy of the ordinance. Solicitors would be told “you can stand here as long as you’d like and you can hold a sign as long as you’d like, but you cannot reach into the roadway to accept donations. If you do it’s a misdemeanor and this is your warning. If you come back, we have the option of arresting you.”

    The maximum penalty for violating the law would be 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

    In preparing the ordinance, police officials and the city attorney worked closely with the City of Spokane Valley in Eastern Washington, which has had a similar ordinance in place for several months. “It has not been an enforcement problem, it has not been a constitutional problem for them,” Caw said.

     

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