Spare a dime?

Panhandlers beware. The Chico City Council, moving gingerly around the First Amendment, took steps this week to curtail your downtown activities. Responding to the complaints of downtown merchants, the council has conceptually adopted an ordinance crafted by assistant City Attorney Alicia Rock that aims to outlaw aggressive and/or deceptive panhandling and control where it can take place. Asking for money from passersby is protected by the First Amendment. But getting in someone’s face or saying you need money for a bus ride to Paradise when in fact you want to by a pack of American Spirit cigarettes is apparently not protected speech. And the courts have said cities can ban begging in certain areas, like near ATMs, payphones or bus stops.

The new city ordinance will forbid panhandling within 15 feet of ATMs and five feet of storefronts, payphones, parking meters and bus stops. There will be no special panhandling police unit formed—enforcement will be complaint-based. Initially the beggars in violation will be “educated” as to the new ordinance. If caught again, they will be issued a ticket for an infraction and sent to court, where they could be fined up to $1,000. A fine, of course, is probably not the best way to punish the chronically broke. More likely offenders will be ordered to perform community service work. They will also be told about services offered to help them in times of need.

Tanks for the memories. The City Council also voted to hold a celebration to honor soldiers and veterans sometime this summer. With a lot of locals coming home from war, and with fallout from the recent American flag flying flap—some councilmembers wanted to show their patriotic colors by flying 350 flags until the war was over, and others thought that was overkill—something had to be done to prove all on the council are loyal patriots. So Councilmembers Scott Gruendl and Dan Nguyen-Tan and Mayor Maureen Kirk took the logical step and suggested a celebration. “Political attempts to expand the ‘City of Flags’ program beyond flying during patriotic holidays create divisiveness in our community,” the trio wrote to Ed Regan, one of the City of Flags organizers (and a completely reasonable fellow). “Instead of debating whether it’s more special to fly flags along our major roads for one week, one month, six months, or year-round, we believe a special event to honor our service men and women will unite the community.” At this week’s meeting, Councilmember Larry Wahl, the only vet on the council, commandeered the idea and spoke to the council audience, suggesting, among other things, a “military parade.” I can picture tanks and Jeeps and uniformed lines of soldiers marching down Main Street, passing Duffy’s and then, standing at attention on a special raised platform constructed in front of City Hall, the mayor, who proudly salutes the soldiers as they pass by. Maybe we can get a flyover by the Blue Angels. And for complete national healing, let’s see if we can schedule the Dixie Chicks to perform in the Downtown Plaza Park following the parade. Who’s with me?

At the same meeting the council honored Marine Sgt. Brandon Kessler, a Chico High grad who just returned from five months in the Middle East. Wahl introduced Kessler, a strapping young man with Popeye-sized arms covered with tattoos. Kessler got a couple of standing ovations from a flag-toting gathering of supporters. The big guy got choked up and then paid his own tribute to the veterans in the audience. He noted that, while he served five months overseas, Vietnam vets “spent years on end.” Brandon flew on a helicopter, Wahl noted, on one mission with embedded Fox news reporter (and Iran-Contra operative) Ollie North. That must have been a treat.