Photo by Ryan Burns

About two years ago, the Eureka City Council adopted anti-panhandling amendments to the city’s “Aggressive and Intrusive Solicitation Ordinance.” Now, after a court determined that the ordinance was unconstitutional, the city is changing it to be less restrictive.

The Eureka City Council will introduce the new ordinance amendments during tonight’s meeting.

The decision comes after local attorney Peter Martin filed a lawsuit against the city of Eureka in 2017, which charged that some restrictions in the ordinance are unconstitutional.

Eureka City Attorney Bob Black told the Outpost that although the case is still pending, the court ruled in February that the ordinance does violate the First Amendment and was “subject to potentially successful challenge.”

“The new ordinance takes out any hint of content-based restriction,” Black told the Outpost. “There’s one big basket of everything that’s solicitation. It doesn’t single out panhandling and make it illegal.”

In addition to being less panhandling-specific, the new ordinance is less restrictive about where solicitation activities can occur. The section of the previous ordinance that prohibited solicitation in places where people were a “captive audience” — such as buses, bus stops or gas stations — has been removed. However, solicitation is still prohibited at ATMs and within 15 feet of the entrance to a bank or credit union.

The new ordinance still prohibits solicitation near driveways leading to shopping centers and other public venues, on roadway median strips and near traffic intersections. The new ordinance, however, only prohibits solicitation at intersections with traffic signals, rather than all intersections.

“People need to pay attention to the situation in those controlled areas,” Black said. “Those are areas prone to congestion and distraction.”

“Aggressive solicitation” — which includes physically touching a person or using abusive or profane language — is still prohibited anywhere within the city, regardless of location. The new ordinance also has an altered definition of “aggressive solicitation” because, Black said, one of the court’s concerns was that the previous definition was too vague.

Basically these changes frame the new ordinance as being less concerned with the content of solicitation and more with any potential safety risks the activity could pose to the people involved or nearby. The city has even changed the ordinance title to “Offenses Against Public Peace and Safety,” instead of “Aggressive and Intrusive Solicitation.”

After reading the ordinance tonight, the council will vote on adopting it at a later meeting.

The council will also be voting tonight on the resolution surrounding Eureka’s controversial marketing contract. The resolution will deny a request for a waiver for Humboldt Made’s late proposal and also authorize the city manager to begin negotiating a contract with Eddy Alexander.

The Eureka City Council meets Tuesday, June 18 at 6 p.m at Eureka City Hall — 531 K Street.

You can view the full agenda here.