Judge tosses most of Arcata panhandling ordinance, city can appeal; Salzman: 'We knew we were in the right'
Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard
The 2010 Arcata panhandling ordinance has been largely thrown out by Superior Court Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen.
The ordinance banned panhandling in certain locations around the city, including major intersections, pedestrian bridges and the entrances and exits to businesses. Reinholtsen stated in a court ruling this week that location restrictions were “largely unconstitutional.”
The ordinance also banned “aggressive panhandling,” but the legal challenge by Arcata resident Richard Salzman and attorney Peter Martin did not address that portion of the law.
”There appears to be no dispute that Arcata has legitimate interests in prohibiting 'aggressive panhandling,' so the Court will not dwell on that,” the court ruling states.
Martin called the judge's decision “detailed and thoughtful.”
”We're very gratified by the court's ruling,” Martin said. “We're happy to see that the city of Arcata will now have to respect the free speech of all of its citizens.”
A judgment -- the final action in the lawsuit -- will be entered in favor of Salzman on behalf of the judge. The city will have 60 days to appeal.
Arcata City Manager Randy Mendosa said the city attorney and the attorney defending the city in the lawsuit will review the ruling and likely meet in closed session with the city council prior to its Oct. 3 meeting.
”All we can say is that we are currently analyzing
the court's decision,” Mendosa said.
Mayor Michael Winkler said the city attorney worked hard to draft the ordinance based on similar laws in other cities.
”I'm disappointed,” he said.
The council and staff will meet with the city attorney about what steps to take next, Winkler said. That meeting has not been scheduled.
Salzman said he was pleased with the ruling and had mixed feelings about the possibility of an appeal.
”We knew we were in the right,” he said, adding that the city overreached and forced him to use the judicial system. “It's a testimony to the government that our founders so brilliantly structured.”
”I'm of two minds about appealing,” Salzman continued. “I'd prefer that they don't waste taxpayer money on a folly like that.”
Still, Salzman said, he is confident that the ruling would stand if appealed, making the ruling case law that other jurisdictions could reference in similar cases.
Reinholtsen struck down large portions of the law, allowing only minor exceptions to the ordinance.
”The core difficulty with evaluating the Ordinance is that it pits Arcata's legitimate interests against the speech rights of individuals,” Reinholtsen wrote in the ruling.
The ruling states that Arcata has a legitimate interest in “preventing congestion and controlling traffic” and that targeted panhandling can be disruptive to traffic flow. It goes on to state that Arcata has a valid interest in protecting its citizens from unwanted communications, or “the right to be let alone.”
However, Reinholtsen ruled that the restrictions infringed on constitutional rights.
”It is only a slight exaggeration that new laws that restrict speech based on the content of that speech are impossible to uphold,” the ruling states.
”In sum, the Court finds that the legitimate interests advanced by Arcata with respect to the targeted panhandling prohibition are insufficient in most instances to justify the infringement of solicitors' right, and, for that reason, it is largely unconstitutional,” the ruling states.
”The Court rules that the location-specific prohibition on panhandling is unconstitutional, with two exceptions. The exceptions are that Arcata may continue to prohibit 'panhandling' within twenty feet of any unenclosed ATM, and Arcata may continue to prohibit 'panhandling' 'in any public transportation vehicle,'” the ruling reads.
Public transit vehicles are not considered public fora, according to the ruling.
The court ruled that people using an ATM have their money and financial security at stake, and that “soliciting people while they are using ATMs heightens the feelings of duress and intimidation that can be felt by those solicited.”
The full text of the ruling can be viewed online at www.times-standard.com.
Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or email@example.com.