Panhandling: How the City of Boca Raton Does It

Update: At bottom we’ve posted a federal case that upheld Pembroke Pines’ ordinance against panhandling and similar behavior.
In our recent article on panhandlers, a lot of readers have asked why we don’t see them in the city of Boca Raton. The city adopted specific ordinances to deal with the problem, and not just panhandlers.
First, there’s an ordinance about soliciting on streets:

Sec. 16-3. – Soliciting, collecting, etc., upon streets.
No person shall stand or walk on the paved portion of any right-of-way, except sidewalks and bike paths, or in any paved or unpaved median strip of any street, road or highway in the city for any of the following purposes:
(a) Soliciting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(b) Collecting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(c) Soliciting the purchase of property or of services of any nature whatsoever by the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(d)Selling property or services of any nature whatsoever to the occupant of any motor vehicle.
(Code 1966, § 21-82; Ord. No. 5132, § 2, 4-27-10)

Note that it allows sidewalks and bike paths. This is important from a constitutional perspective because it fits under “time, place and manner” restrictions. Also note that it does not discriminate based on the type of solicitation. That also helps make it constitutional in that it’s not based on the content of the person’s “speech” (solicitation being a form of speech).
Second, they created an exception to the rule for “special events,” requiring a permit:

Sec. 8-160. – Special event permit to solicit funds, donations, etc.—Required.
It shall be unlawful for any person to conduct a special event, solicit funds or donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable or benevolent purposes without first obtaining a special event permit from the city and payment of the fee specified in the Boca Raton Municipal Facilities and Services User Fee Schedule. A special event is defined as any meeting, activity, gathering, or group of persons, animals, or vehicles, or a combination thereof, having a common purpose, design or goal, upon any public facility, street, sidewalk, alley, park, or other place or building where the special event substantially inhibits the usual flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic or which occupies any area or building generally open to the public and preempts use by the general public. A special event shall include but not be limited to a festival, carnival, concert, parade, walk, race, fund-raising sale and similar gatherings.
(Code 1966, § 16-24; Ord. No. 4533, § 3, 9-12-00)

The exception includes an application process in Section 8-161 and 8-162. It requires proof of various things such as that the person is genuinely employed by a genuine charitable organization.
Our county elected officials are hiding behind the false idea that they can’t stop panhandlers and others from creating traffic hazards because of constitutional limitations. Most of our readers figured out this was phony because they see that the problem is far less in cities like Boca Raton. The way Boca Raton does it shows how it can be done if our county commissioners want to do it.
For now at least it’s apparent that they don’t. We specifically asked Commissioners Berger and Abrams (who represent West Boca) and they have not responded, instead hiding behind the County Attorney. In light of the County Attorney’s response, we have again asked them and they have so far not responded.
Please note that Commissioner Abrams faces challenger Andy O’Brien in the election going on right now. We will ask Mr. O’Brien if he has a position on the issue.
Update: A reader sent us this case from the federal court that covers South Florida, regarding this issue in Pembroke Pines. The court ruled in favor of the city’s ordinance restricting panhandling and similar behavior.
[gview file=””]

Panhandlers: Asking Our Elected Officials

Update: County Attorney Denise Nieman responded. See bottom of this article.

Mary Lou Berger
Mary Lou Berger

Having received numerous complaints from readers about panhandlers, we decided to contact our elected officials to see if they have anything meaningful to say on the subject. Here’s our letter to the County Commissioners Steven Abrams and Mary Lou Berger, along with County Attorney Denise Nieman and a few others.
Steven Abrams
Steven Abrams

Commissioners Abrams and Berger,
West Boca News receives frequent complaints from our readers about panhandlers, mainly at intersections.
I see them often myself at major intersections. Complaints relate to most major intersections on 441, Glades Road, Palmetto Park Road and more.
Since you are the county elected officials for West Boca, I’d like to ask you some questions on behalf of our readers regarding panhandlers and panhandling.
Do you consider panhandling to be a problem?
What, if anything, should the county do about it?
What, if anything, have you done about it?
I’ve included others as cc’s on this message, including the County Attorney, West Boca Community Council, and a few people in PBSO.
If you prefer, I would be happy to meet with you in person in or near West Boca. Or maybe Ms. Scarborough could make this a topic for a Community Council meeting and you could attend.
Warren Redlich
West Boca News

Denise Nieman
Denise Nieman

We will wait to see if we get any response from them and will, of course, inform our readers what we hear.

The response from the County Attorney follows:
This is a difficult issue that comes up regularly. The County has investigated and discussed panhandling many times throughout the years, including the possibility of enacting an ordinance. However, due to current laws and court cases, the County has not adopted an ordinance banning or regulating panhandling due to the difficulty of doing so within the parameters of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Marlene Everitt, a senior attorney in my office, is an expert on this topic, and has prepared a summary of the law that she recently shared with some concerned constituents. I hope this overview is helpful to you:

Streets, medians and sidewalks, hereinafter collectively referred to as ‘Right-of-Ways’ are traditional public forums and as such are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This protection limits, but does not eliminate, a government’s ability to restrict the time, place and manner of activities in the Rights-of-Ways. However, the regulation must be the least restrictive means necessary to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public and apply equally to all individuals and groups attempting to use a public Rights of Way.
Under this analysis, it is impossible to allow some people or groups to use the Right-of-Ways and deny that right to others; irrespective of whether it is called loitering or vagrancy or whether it benefits the individual or group to which an individual belongs. Under current law, we cannot ban panhandlers from using the medians without banning firefighters and the Police Benevolent Association as well.

Notwithstanding the difficulty in prohibiting panhandling, the Board of County Commissioners has not given up on the issue. At the Commissioners’ request, staff will continue to keep abreast of what’s happening on the local, state and federal level and advise the Board of any updates or changes in the law.

Politician Panders

There it was, a tweet from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue:

Why is a career political insider speaking to people about hurricane preparedness?
This opinion is not about Ms. Berger alone, nor is it limited to Democratic politicians. I feel the same when Republicans do it. It could be Rick Scott or Marco Rubio and I’d be just as irritated.

But turning to Ms. Berger, I wondered if she has some special experience regarding hurricanes. So I checked her bio.
No. She doesn’t. She worked for Montgomery Ward in Pittsburgh before moving here in 1989. She did clerical work for the court system. Then she started working as Burt Aaronson’s assistant 20 years ago.
Nothing in her bio shows anything close to expertise about hurricane preparedness.
So let’s be clear about why Berger was there and why this was tweeted by a county agency.
It’s politics. It’s a politician pandering to an audience of frequent voters. And the pandering is amplified on Twitter by an agency subject to her budget votes.
But don’t worry. Berger sits in a heavily gerrymandered district so she’ll be pandering to us for several more years until she’s term-limited out and the next one comes along.
Cynical? You bet.