Updated: November 7, 2012 at 12:00 am
A proposed ordinance to outlaw panhandling in downtown Colorado Springs could be in place before the holiday shopping season.
After lingering for weeks, the proposed no-solicitation zone will be up for a City Council vote Tuesday. The council will hear public testimony beforehand.
The council had scheduled the proposal only for discussion but moved it up for what is called “first reading” at the request of Mayor Steve Bach, council President Scott Hente said Wednesday.
“Based on the mayor’s request, we’re speeding it up,” Hente said. “If you read our rules, the mayor … has the ability to request things on the agenda.”
City Attorney Chris Melcher said there may have been an expectation “that the matter would be ready for decision” after a presentation in September. Melcher and police Chief Pete Carey have gone before council three times to present on the proposed ordinance.
“We have worked hard over the last eight months to bring forward an ordinance that incorporates council’s suggestions but also addresses the very real concerns that the city and the downtown have expressed over the past year or more,” Melcher said.
“We very much appreciate council’s willingness to consider this on first reading,” he added.
The ordinance requires two readings. If approved Tuesday, the proposal would go before council for second reading and a final vote Nov. 27.
A council majority seems to be leaning in favor of the proposed no-solicitation zone, said Hente, adding that he is “reluctantly” in support.
“I think there’s more support than not,” he said.
Council members Angela Dougan, Bernie Herpin and Tim Leigh are among the supporters.
“I’ve experienced, firsthand, solicitation in the downtown area,” Herpin said in an email.
“While I feel comfortable saying no and am not intimidated, I don’t think everyone, especially women and the elderly, should be put in the position of having to deal with this when they just want to visit downtown,” he said.
The proposed zone is bordered by Boulder Street on the north, Nevada Avenue on the east, Cucharras Street on the south and Cascade Avenue on the west.
Residents on Colorado Springs’ west side have lobbied hard for a plan to fight crime, including aggressive panhandling, in their part of town, too. Residents and some council members worry that downtown’s panhandlers will migrate to other parts of town if the downtown zone is approved.
Dougan said she’s personally never had a “much of an issue” with panhandlers downtown.
“I guess I’m just mean-looking,” she said.
But Dougan said she’s heard “over and over again” from people who won’t go downtown because they’ve been confronted by panhandlers.
“Many women are scared,” she said.
Leigh asked his colleagues to support an “emergency ordinance” that, if approved, would go into effect right away.
“I’m strongly advocating that we get this done before the holiday shopping season,” Leigh told his colleagues in an email, which The Gazette obtained under an open-records request.
“This would send a strong message that we’re unified and believe this is the right thing to do for the safety of the citizens,” he wrote.
In another email, Councilman Merv Bennett said he was “ready to move forward.” Bennett did not return messages seeking comment.
Hente said he didn’t get the sense after talking to his colleagues one-on-one that they supported an emergency ordinance. Besides, he said, an emergency ordinance sends the wrong message. Hente said the mayor shared the same sentiment.
“I think it sends the message that we’re trying to ram something down the community’s throat at the last minute,” Hente said. “I think we send the message that we’re going to do this our normal legislative way.”
Councilman Val Snider said he still hasn’t received “official notice” that the ordinance will be up for a vote Tuesday.
“Council gave direction to the city attorney to provide us options (of multiple no-solicitation zones) showing pros and cons of each. I have not seen those options,” he said. “I just can’t say if I support what may be presented.”
Council members Lisa Czelatdko, Jan Martin and Brandy Williams did not respond to a request for comment.
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