TAMPA — Tampa officials moved Thursday to enact a St. Petersburg-style ban on panhandling, charity drives and newspaper sales on the city's busiest roads.
City Council members agreed to hold a Feb. 3 public hearing on an ordinance that would prohibit motorist-to-pedestrian transactions on major "arterial" roads such as Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard.
The vote came just six weeks before city elections. And it followed three months of heated debate, neighborhood demands for a ban and pleas from the unemployed, newspaper vendors and charities not to knock them off the curb.
"It is a good compromise," said City Council Chairman Thomas Scott, who said restricting the ban to major roads would not put charities or newspaper hawkers out of business. "There's no votes to get a complete ban."
Tampa's ordinance would not go as far as St. Petersburg's. There, the city banned solicitation on smaller "collector" roads as well as arterials.
In Tampa, panhandlers and street vendors could still work the collector roads as long as they stayed at least 30 feet away from their intersections with larger arterials.
Joining Scott in support of the ordinance were council members Gwen Miller, Mary Mulhern and Curtis Stokes. Voting no were Joseph Caetano, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Charlie Miranda, who said a ban might be popular but does nothing about unemployment or homelessness.
"We have a problem," Miranda said. "We're not addressing how to solve it. We're addressing how to get rid of it." Caetano voted no because he said the ban wouldn't go far enough. He wants a half-dozen smaller roads in New Tampa added to the list.
Mulhern, who is being challenged for her District 2 seat by two supporters of a ban, last week balked at scheduling a public hearing on the proposal. But she voted for it Thursday after asking police whether panhandling is a public safety problem.
It is, Assistant Police Chief John Bennett said.
Police answer nearly three calls a day about problems related to roadside soliciting — from traffic hazards to turf wars — and typically make an arrest a day.
In December, an officer on the way to a call radioed in after seeing someone wearing an electronic ankle monitor in a group gathered at 40th Street and Busch Boulevard, Bennett said. A second officer was dispatched and discovered a sexual predator working the intersection in violation of his felony probation.
The vote came despite appeals by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and representatives of the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune. "The money that we raise locally is so very important for the people that we serve in the city of Tampa," said Suzanne Austin, the Muscular Dystrophy Association's director of business development.
The association receives no government or United Way funding, she said, and relies on donations and support. Firefighters' boot drives in Tampa and Hillsborough County bring in $130,000 a year, which helps pay for care for nearly 1,000 people.
"If every community followed the lead of St. Petersburg, it would cripple our organization," Austin said.
Sonia Long, who sells the Times and supervises other hawkers, said she relies on the job and other part-time work to provide for her children, ages 5, 11 and 13.
"I come from an educated background, but this is the economy right now," said Long, 43, who previously worked as an insurance adjuster, is a paralegal and has been accepted to law school, but cannot afford to go.
Close to tears, Long asked if the council bans newspaper sales, "Who's going to pay my TECO bill? Who's going to pay my water bill next week?"
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.