Iowa City Panhandling Ordinance Passes

By Mark Geary, Reporter

IOWA CITY – Beggars in Iowa City will face some tighter restrictions. Tuesday night, the city council approved a plan to limit where panhandlers can and cannot be.

It bans asking for money within 10 feet of any building or mobile vendor, within 15 feet of a crosswalk and within 20 feet of an ATM. It's aimed at forcing panhandlers out of the Ped. Mall except for a small strip of land in the middle.

Those who disobey the new law will face a $65 fine.

Over the years, area businesses like the Brown Bottle have complained panhandlers are bothering their customers.

"Downtown is a beautiful area. We don't want to mess it up by having people feel uncomfortable," Gina Landau, a manager at the Brown Bottle, said.

Managers have tried to encourage panhandlers to leave. It hasn't worked.

"They're making good money. I've tried to give someone food. They don't want that. They want money," Landau said.

Iowa City recently installed purple parking meters on the Ped Mall to help fund homeless programs. Officials encourage people to put spare change in the the meters instead of handing it to beggars.

Street musicians and other performers gathered in front of city hall Tuesday night to oppose the panhandling policy.

"We're talking about panhandlers who are not acting aggressively. If they are, we have laws for that. We're talking about people sitting with a box in front of them," Citizens United for Free Speech Spokesperson Garry Klein said.

The peaceful protesters argue the Ped. Mall is a public place where they should have the freedom to ask people for money. They argue this ordinance will harm the spirit of downtown.

Council members disagree.

"I am a lover of our downtown and the variety and diversity and unexpected nature of our downtown. I don't think this is going to change that," council member Regenia Bailey said.

While many have demanded Ped Mall changes for years, plenty of others still can't understand why requests for spare change have created so much controversy.

The new ordinance takes effect on June 9.
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