Mayor seeks downtown beggar ban in time for Christmas

       Worried that scruffy beggars will hurt downtown Christmas sales, Mayor Steve Bach is pushing for a faster pace on the proposed no-panhandling ordinance than City Council had once foreseen.
       At the mayor's request, the ordinance is to be heard on first reading at the meeting Nov. 13, with the goal of passing it then and reapproving it on second reading Nov. 27. This would allow the law to take effect (under city code) five days after that, according to the scenario provided by Cindy Aubrey, the city's chief communications officer.
       The effect will be a reduced opportunity for public input and the likelihood that the Westside will not have its own no-panhandling zone.
       Under a more leisurely councilmembers' plan worked out at their Sept. 24 meeting - long before Christmas shopping was an issue - the City Attorney's Office and Police Department were to come back with ordinance-related options at a formal meeting during which council would not vote but they and citizens could discuss the issue. The reasons for taking more time were council's displeasure with City Attorney Chris Melcher's draft ordinance, which did not allow multiple zones; and possible crime impacts for the Westside and other outlying areas if a downtown-only law did pass.
       First and second readings would then have occurred at the next two formal meetings, under the council plan. A consortium of Westside leaders, seeking a no-panhandling zone in the No Man's Land and Old Colorado City areas, had particularly liked that idea because it would have allowed broad opportunity for public feedback.
       The original timing had called for Melcher to return to council Oct. 9 with ordinance options and Police Chief Pete Carey with an enforcement plan. But Melcher has asked for repeated delays since then, so Sept. 24 is the last time the matter was heard.
       Asked about the mayor's stance, Aubrey said the request for speedier council action came from “the downtown merchants, who are concerned about the upcoming holiday season.”
       A city press release revealing the mayor's first-reading request does recognize council's wish for attorney “options.” However, According to City Council Liaison Aimee Cox, no materials (such as a revised ordinance) were included for the panhandling item when draft agendas for Nov. 13 were submitted Nov. 2.
       Passing a downtown-only ordinance will likely cause panhandling vagrants to come to the Westside, aggravating economic problems for businesses already suffering from a bad economy and the Waldo Canyon Fire, according to Mike Crepeau, a hotel owner and leader of the Avenue Merchants business group west of 31st Street. “We're cannibalizing the tourism district to help the downtown,” he said.
       In response, police say they are ready for such a displacement. (See story starting on Page 6.)
       One councilmember eager for quick passage of a downtown-only law is Tim Leigh. Online council exchanges, obtained this week by the Westside Pioneer, even show him seeking support from fellow councilmembers to pass it as an emergency ordinance that would take effect immediately Nov. 13 (and thus reduce the public comment opportunity to just one meeting). “Many of the downtown merchants earn somewhere around 60 to 70 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday season,” he wrote. “Getting this done quickly with unity will send a strong, positive message to the community that we care about the downtown and by default, the larger community.”
       The proposed law is technically a “no-solicitation” ordinance. Melcher's existing draft would establish a zone downtown in which (to avoid legal reprisal) nobody could put up signs or “solicit” in any way - not even charitable groups. Another council request of the city attorney Sept. 24 had been to make that wording less rigid.

Westside Pioneer article