ACLU Urges City Council to Reject Amendments to Solicitation OrdinanceCharlottesville, VA--The ACLU of Virginia has asked the Charlottesville City Council to reject proposed amendments to an ordinance that would ban solicitations, including panhandling, in large portions of the Downtown Mall.
The proposal, which could be voted on as early as tonight, prohibits individuals from soliciting money or selling goods or services on the Downtown Mall within fifty feet in any direction of two streets that cross the otherwise pedestrian-only mall.
Charlottesville city officials claim that the restrictions are being put in place to protect the safety of pedestrians. But unlike similar recent proposals in Hampton, Newport News and Herndon, which restrict solicitations of motorists, the Charlottesville ordinance would also ban solicitation of pedestrians.
"Charlottesville's Downtown Mall may not look like a sidewalk, but it is really just a very large sidewalk," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "And sidewalks are traditional public forums where individual expression is protected by the First Amendment."
"This is like saying that you can't ask for money within 50 feet of a street because it might create a traffic hazard," added Willis. "In thousands of downtowns across the country, individuals are conducting business, soliciting for charities, and offering services within a few feet of busy streets."
In a letter sent to Charlottesville City Council last Friday, ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg wrote that the ACLU does not object to prohibitions on solicitations within the two streets where they cross the mall. But Glenberg argues that the courts will not allow restrictions that extend much beyond the streets themselves.
"It is hard to imagine why Charlottesville sees the need for such large buffer zones around these two streets," said Willis. "And it is hard to imagine a court allowing them to create such zones."
All told, the ordinance affects more than 200 linear feet of the eight-block-long mall sided by retail stores and restaurants, some with outdoor seating. In addition to the proposed no-solicitation zones adjacent to the two streets, Charlottesville already prohibits solicitations within 15 feet of banks, ATMs, and outdoor cafés.
A copy of Glenberg's letter is available online at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/08-16-2010.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, (804) 644-8022