On Thursday, March 21, Fresno City Council discussed and voted on STOP (Safe Transfer of Objects to Pedestrians), a proposed ordinance by Council President Steve Brandau to fine drivers who give donations to panhandlers at intersections.
Brandau stated his ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Luis Chavez and Paul Caprioglio, was an issue of public and traffic safety for both pedestrians and drivers, and not an attack against panhandlers or the homeless.
The ordinance would fine drivers who give any kind of donation from money to food and blankets to pedestrians standing at marked intersections. There would be a 200-yard policy where the driver could pull over and give the donation without penalty.
The fines collected, which range from $75 for the first offense, $150 for a second offense and $300 for each subsequent within 6 months, would be reinvested in traffic safety improvements.
Councilmember Chavez echoed Brandau and said this was not an attack on the homeless, and continued to list funds the city council has appropriated for resources intended to help the homeless.
Many community residents disagreed with Chavez and Brandau’s statements and believed the ordinance was not about traffic and public safety issues, but a ploy to further target and criminalize the homeless. Despite our rampant homeless issue in Fresno, the city council time and time again continues to burden the homeless instead of showing compassion with programs meant to directly help them.
“If you pass this ordinance, I’m going to break it over and over. I’m not going to follow it,” said Mary Curry, ending with a standing ovation from a room full of people who also opposed the bill. Curry and the dozens of other community members who came out to oppose the bill highlighted the strong disagreement over the proposal.
During the discussions, councilmembers gave no direct data correlating helping homeless people with injuries or traffic violations, casting doubt on Brandau’s claims that this bill was a public safety issue and not an attack on the homeless.
Many residents brought up annual fundraising events like Kid’s Day and Fill the Boot Day, which sees many volunteers on street corners asking for donations, and how they also cause traffic and public safety issues. It was mentioned these events should also have the same effect if the ordinance were to pass.
Brandau stepped in and said events like Kid’s Day and Fill the Boot Day, as well as families asking for funeral donations, would be allowed if they get permits.
One homeless man addressed the city council members saying, “My heart is broken… but please, I met most of you, don’t let this pass.”
Other community members also spoke out against the bill:
“You’re saying that this law doesn’t talk about the homeless per say. That means anybody who stops their car on the street for any reason to give money, to talk to, to give food to or whatever would be signed. If this is not meant to target the homeless, then I would assume that Kid’s Day, for instance, it causes a lot of traffic – and I’m not against Kid’s Day – then this would be a part of this ordinance as well then. I’m pleading with you to vote no on this.”
“I’m appalled that two of our general Democratic members in this committee would sign off to this law. It’s an embarrassment to this community and an embarrassment to your colleagues. Homelessness is the real concern for our community.”
“A lot of people that I have encountered where I live that are homeless are disabled and unable to work and they need help… And the City Council made it clear that you hate poor people. Prove me wrong. Help us. ”
“I do not support the ordinance… it’s criminalizing the poor. You can say that it is not but that’s what it is.”
“Please do not put lipstick on a pig and go forward with this law.”
Police Chief Jerry Dyer was also not in favor of this proposal, stating that the Fresno Police Department already lacks resources and receives thousands of calls annually.
After four hours of council and public comment, the council voted to turn down the proposal 3-2 with Brandau and Caprioglio in support. Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias and Garry Bredefeld opposed it, while Chavez – who co-sponsored the bill – abstained. Councilmember Nelson Esparza was absent.