In an effort to promote the shared use of street furniture on the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica City Council has directed city staff to create an ordinance prohibiting panhandling from the benches and chairs there.

The street furniture on the Promenade provides seating for only about 100 people, but seats are often unavailable because they are monopolized by people who use them for hours at a time in order to solicit donations, noted representatives of the Santa Monica Police Department and Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corporation.

“There are a large number of the benches that are used for hours per day, day in and day out, by individuals that are soliciting money usually — sometimes other things,” Rawson said.

Capt. Alfonso Venegas of the Santa Monica Police Department said, “It has always been the police department’s experience that a number of individuals have tended to monopolize the benches for a period of time.

“What they tend to do is to panhandle with signs, and it takes away from [other] individuals to have the ability to sit down and use these benches for what they’re actually intended for — rest.”

This can create a hardship for those who are elderly, very young or disabled, says City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.

Creating an ordinance prohibiting panhandling from the benches and chairs on the Promenade — which is visited by thousands of people each day — will ensure that they remain available for shared use, Moutrie said.

Councilman Ken Genser asked how the city envisioned an ordinance would be enforced.

Moutrie said the city could use signage and could also give warnings to individuals that panhandling is prohibited on Promenade benches.

“I just don’t think this is a good idea,” said local activist Jerry Rubin. “I don’t know what the legal ramifications are.”

Moutrie said that the ordinance would respect the First Amendment rights of anyone seeking donations. Individuals could still seek donations on the Promenade — just not on the benches or chairs there. They could also seek donations from benches and chairs not on the Promenade.

“It’s not an attack on homelessness,” said Venegas. “It’s addressing the activity of panhandling, not homelessness.”

Currently, benches and chairs on the Promenade are prohibited from being used by street performers.

“I think this makes sense to at least consider as an ordinance,” said Genser of prohibiting panhandling on Promenade benches. “It sounds like it’s a reasonable solution to a problem that isn’t discriminating against any classes. It’s discriminating against an activity. It seems easily enforceable and fair.”

Mayor pro tem Richard Bloom agreed.

“I think this is a reasonable response to an issue that’s existed for a long time on the Promenade and it’s not something we really have to live with, and so I think it’s a good thing we do it.”

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