Raucous city council meeting sinks picketing provision, sends homeless-related ordinances to committee

In a raucous meeting Tuesday night, Sacramento City Council threw out a proposed ordinance restricting picketing near homes, but pushed a number of provisions affecting the homeless community and nighttime city hall picketers to the Law and Legislation Committee.

Sacramento City Hall was packed with activists Tuesday night, from Right to Rest protesters to local labor unions, united to oppose an ordinance package meant to curb picketing near residential areas and restrict “aggressive panhandling” and behavior that the city viewed as stressful to downtown visitors.

Through nearly an hour of public comment, several people were removed from the chamber for disruption, culminating in a protest in the plaza outside.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg acknowledged the protest, calling it a security concern, drawing boos and counter-comments from the audience.

“That’s not democracy, that’s attempted anarchy!” Steinberg shouted over the noise of protesters banging on the chamber windows.

Dozens of speakers approached the dais to express their anger at the proposal, including former Arcata mayor Shane Brinton, whose impassioned address condemned Councilmember Steve Hansen as a “union buster” for his attempted restrictions on picketing. The chant was momentarily taken up by the audience before Brinton was removed from the chamber.

Steinberg voiced his intent at the beginning of the meeting to ask for the removal of the two of the most controversial provisions, pertaining to the right to picket and use bullhorns in residential areas, but concerned citizens continued to demand that package be thrown out altogether.

The primary item of concern was the section referring to “aggressive and intrusive solicitation,” seeking to prohibit panhandling near areas such as ATM’s, traffic medians and gas stations. Homeless activists called this provision cruel and unnecessary, noting that panhandling is already a tactic of last resort for many people.

Several instances of public comment likened the proposal to a punishment on the poor for being poor, rather than a protection for citizens who may feel uncomfortable denying solicitations asked of them.

While Steinberg opened the meeting by congratulating Councilmember Hansen on proposing the set of controversial changes, two hours of public comment condemning the provisions showed that no such support was otherwise present in the room.

Hansen defended the package while distancing himself from the provisions personally, saying that the suggestions had filtered down through the Sacramento Police Department and concerned business owners who frequently contact him about the issues at hand. Nonetheless, many speakers targeted Hansen during public comment because of his link to anti-residential picketing after activists protested outside his home earlier this year.

Several councilmembers, including Angelique Ashby, Larry Carr and Allen Warren, spoke against the remaining provisions of the package, noting that it was over-complicated, hastily crafted and appeared to lack support.

Rather than voting the package down completely, the council elected to take the changes back to a law and legislation committee, where the remaining four provisions could be broken into individual ordinances for consideration at upcoming council meetings.

For some, the removal of the picketing provision was a victory. But for those opposed to the remaining issues—a panhandling ban, the right to cite and remove uncooperative individuals from public parks and recreational facilities, the requirement for empty buildings to board up alcoves deeper than 3 feet, and the right to protest at city hall without a permit after 7p.m.—the council’s decision to separate the issues felt like a harbinger of defeat.

The overwhelming action against the bundled ordinance package made an unlikely alliance between several groups at Tuesday’s meeting, but some Right to Rest activists expressed concern that support would dwindle if the council deliberated long enough for opposition to lose track of individual items’ progress.

Public comment on the remaining issues is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 2 p.m. at the Law and Legislation Committee meeting. Sacramento City Council aims for a vote in the following council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

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Juli Boggs
Juli Boggs is a Sacramento-based journalist.