"They s#it on our walls" said the owner of Antoinette's Bathhouse. Another woman described occasions where panhandlers were yelling "Fu*k you bitches" at college students.
Hours of testimony caused Monday's city commission meeting to run late into the night, as a packed house showed up to support new ordinances that would again limit panhandling in St. Augustine. Many told horror stories of how unsafe it feels to be downtown at night. Others described unthinkably disgusting instances of public defecation.
When Commissioners were asked if they would like to testify on their own personal experiences with aggressive panhandlers, Vice Mayor Todd Neville volunteered to testify.
"There's a cohort of panhandlers that sit in the plaza... My standard response is hello, have a nice day. It usually ends there... On dec 27th one of them was particularly brazen. On my way back while I was carrying my coffee he followed me to my car. He hit my window and made derogatory comments about me, about my car." Neville explained that it was so bad that he had to call police.
"We had people urinating outside the window of one of our employees" he continued.
The Vice Mayor also told multiple stories of customers, tourists and friends who had negative experiences with panhandlers.
No other Commissioners wished to speak on their experiences with panhandlers.
In the end, around 11:00pm a new ordinance was passed allowing for location restrictions, and tougher penalties for panhandlers, and other rules for discouraging panhandlers within the city of St. Augustine. The motion was passed unanimously to the sound of cheering and clapping from the crown still in attendance.
Included in the ordinance:
(c) Prohibited Conduct, Proximity and Location Restrictions.
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in aggressive panhandling or begging on any sidewalk, highway, street, roadway, right-of-way, parking lot, park, or other public or semi-public area or in any public building lobby, entranceway, plaza or common area, public forum or limited public forum within the city limits of the City of St. Augustine.
(2) It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in aggressive panhandling or begging on private property if the owner, tenant or lawful occupant has asked the person not to solicit on the property, or has posted a sign clearly indicating that solicitations are not welcome on the property.
(3) It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in solicitation, including but not limited to panhandling or begging, when either the person engaged in the solicitation, including but not limited to the panhandler or beggar or the person being panhandled, is located in, on or at the following locations:
a. Within twenty (20) feet, in any direction, from any entrance or exit of commercially zoned property;
b. Within twenty (20) feet, in any direction, of any bus or trolley stop or any public transportation facility;
c. Within twenty (20) feet, in any direction, of an automated teller machine or any electronic information processing device which accepts or dispenses cash in connection with a credit, deposit or convenience account with a financial institution;
d. Within twenty (20) feet, in any direction, of any parking lot, parking garage, parking meter or parking pay station owned or operated by the City;
e. Within twenty (20) feet, in any direction, of any public restroom owned and operated by a governmental agency;
f. Within one hundred (100) feet, in any direction, of any daycare or school, including pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
(4) It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the following prohibit conduct:
a. Approach an operator or other occupant of a motor vehicle for the purpose of panhandling, soliciting or begging, or offering to perform a service in connection with such vehicle, or otherwise soliciting the sale of goods or services, if such panhandling, soliciting or begging is done in an aggressive manner;
b. Panhandle, solicit or beg at any lawfully permitted outdoor dining area or lawfully permitted outdoor merchandise area, provided such areas are in active use at the time;
c. Panhandle, solicit or beg at any transit stop or taxi stand or in a public transit vehicle;
d. Panhandle, solicit or beg while the person or persons being solicited is standing in line waiting to be admitted to a commercial establishment
e. Panhandle, solicit or beg by touching the person or persons being solicited without that person's consent
f. Panhandle, solicit or beg with the use of profane or abusive language during the solicitation or following an unsuccessful solicitation;
g. Panhandle, solicit or beg by or with the use of any gesture or act intended to cause a reasonable person to be fearful of the solicitor or feel compelled to accede to the solicitation
h. Panhandle, solicit or beg while under the influence of alcohol or after having illegally used any controlled substance, as defined in the Chapter 893 of the Florida Criminal Statutes; or
i. Panhandle, solicit or beg after dark