In December, the city council took final action on important code updates dealing with panhandling and related concerns.
Panhandling rules and homelessness: An apparently growing number of panhandlers at major intersections around the city has been a concern of many of my constituents (and others in the city) for a number of years. There have also been recurring reports of aggressive panhandlers--individuals who assertively ask for money and continue to press after being turned down. Aggressive panhandling and soliciting in the roadways have led to newly tightened rules on these activities.
There are two major changes to the rules which were already in place to regulate public soliciting. First, soliciting in the roadways--from the medians or in travel lanes--has been more strictly limited. Soliciting which by state law is exempt from most city restrictions--specifically, sale of "first amendment protected items", e.g., newspapers--is allowed in those areas. In addition, legitimate charities registered with the city can get temporary permits for those areas. All other soliciting, including panhandling for personal use, is prohibited from road medians or travel lanes.
Second, all public solicitors (including panhandlers) must get an advance city permit for that activity. This is in the form of a "privilege license" for which an application is required, and which provides the city an opportunity to conduct a background and criminal records check. Specific types of criminal history bar an applicant from getting a license, and the license must be carried whenever the person is panhandling. There is no charge for the license.
Other problem behaviors, including aggressive panhandling, panhandling after dark or in parking lots, or on private property without permission, continue to be illegal. Details can be reviewed through the city website, at City Code Sections 34-23.1, 38-31, and 38-61. The intent of these rules is to protect public safety, including traffic safety, and prevent unreasonable harassment. They also serve to protect the continued viability of neighborhoods and commercial areas. Most people tend to avoid places and situations where they expect to meet with uninvited aggressive or confrontational behavior.
At the same time, a number of concerned citizens have very reasonably raised the related questions of how we are treating the poor in our community, including those actually homeless and in need of help. While we can always use more resources and support, our city and citizens are actively trying to address the very real problem of homelessness. We are working to create more assisted housing for those who need health and social services to stay off the streets. We work to help better coordinate the continuum of caring services (housing, food, health care, mental health care, job training, substance abuse services, re-entry transitional help, and others). We work to support the providers of shelter and related urgent care for the homeless. Again, all of these efforts continue to need more resources, more public and neighborhood support, and more volunteers.
Frankly, however, most of those who actively work or volunteer in providing these real helping services agree that cash handouts on the streets do not help. Their major impact is to encourage fraud by some, and to enable others with serious mental health or addiction problems to avoid seeking real help.
Let's work together to provide more, and more effective, help for the homeless and other poor in our community--while also protecting the safety of all our citizens. Our new rules on panhandling are a reasonable part of this combined effort.
Leaf collection update: The final round of leaf collection for this season begins January 3. For leaf collection, the city is divided into four quadrants, and each year we rotate which quadrant starts first. Most of the Southwest Ward is in quadrant 2, with the rest of the ward in quadrant 3. The quadrants going first this year usually go fairly fast, so to be safe, Southwest Ward residents should have have any leaves you want collected out to the curb by January 3. Be sure not to park any vehicle in front of the leaves, which could lead the collection crews to miss or be unable to reach them. And PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT block the sidewalk, bike lane, or auto travel lane! If you have a sidewalk and absolutely cannot get your leaves onto an area between the sidewalk and curb, please leave at least half the sidewalk space clear for safe passage of pedestrians. Thanks! You can get a daily update of the leaf collection progress by checking
Christmas tree recycling: It's time once again to recycle those Christmas trees. FYI, I'm copying here the notice that went out this week on the hows and whens:
"The city will collect Christmas trees after the holidays and put them to good use as mulch for its parks and roadsides.
Residents in single-family homes inside the city limits can put their Christmas trees at the curb for pick-up by city brush crews. All lights, decorations, stands and nails must be removed from trees. Please be aware that it may take several weeks to collect all the trees.
People who live in apartments, who live outside the city limits or who want to dispose of their trees quickly can take them to the following recreation centers for recycling through January 28:
For more information, call City Link at 727-8000.
Economic development projects and incentives: The city council voted on two economic development incentives deals in December, one of which was controversial. That was the $250,000 payment to WFU to help pay for space renovation costs to facilitate the relocation of two existing businesses renting from them. It was approved on a 6-2 vote, with my vote being one of the opponents.
With that in mind, this is a good time for me to re-explain my minimum tests for supporting incentives packages. First, the deal must provide significant benefits for our city. In the case of economic development projects, that means new tax base investments, new jobs, or other significant value to the economy of our city. Second, the project must normally pay for itself in net new tax revenues to the city within a reasonable period of time. Third, there must be protections for the public investment built into the deal (e.g., guarantees for recovery of the investment if the deal doesn't work out). Finally, the deal must be fair--not putting other local businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
In the case of the deal which I voted against this month, it failed the "pay for itself" test. It provided no net new city tax revenues. It was also explained in December as a part of the recent Pepsi expansion deal, but it had not been presented to the public in a timely manner (when we approved the Pepsi incentives package in September). That's bad practice, because it leads the public to wonder whether they're being kept informed of all the commitments being made on a project.
Reasonable minds can disagree on the merits of specific projects like these. However, when there is controversy surrounding one like this, I try to provide you with an explanation for my vote.
Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful recognition: Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful, our local non-profit effort in projects like community tree planting and stream cleanups, has once again received national recognition. Its national umbrella organization, Keep America Beautiful, awarded Winston-Salem its "President's Circle" award for the eighth year in a row. Thanks and congratulations to the leadership of Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful, and to the thousands of volunteers who take part every year in its litter cleanup, waste reduction, and community beautification efforts!