OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to create a 25-foot no-panhandling zone around ATMs and parking pay stations during its first night meeting in the new City Hall.
The council voted on first reading; a second reading is required for passage, which is scheduled for next Tuesday’s meeting.
Council members moved to go forward with the new rule after hearing from businesses that aggressive panhandlers were harassing people trying to pay for their parking. But the council also heard from two people who expressed concern about the ordinance.
“I’m concerned that an ordinance as this would be a tool for further dividing the classes,” said Rosalinda Noriega, a social service worker. “I’m concerned that criminalizing this behavior, it is really not a solution.”
Gene Hoover of Olympia also spoke in opposition. “This needs a much broader community discussion,” he said.
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub cast the lone vote against the new rules, saying she spoke with social workers who don’t like them but didn’t want to pick a battle against them.
But Councilman Steve Langer said the rule was reasonable, that it affects only 25 feet of a city block that’s typically about 270 feet.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said that some people have blocked downtown pay stations, pointing to a picture of someone with pit bulls who leaned against a parking station.
“I think that all of us have huge empathy for our homeless people,” she said, but “this issue is respecting our citizens of Olympia.”
The council also voted 6-1 to pay up to $127,000 to bury electrical wires in the Redwood Estates neighborhood after an outcry from neighbors unhappy about the placement of a power pole. The council also opted to spend $10,000 to put in a temporary bulbout, a term for narrowing the street at a pedestrian crossing. That’s because neighbors objected to a permanent bulbout, and city staff proposed to test the effect of a temporary one.
Amy Tousley, a representative of Puget Sound Energy, pointed out that some transmission lines still would go over the area because they’re necessary for a new electrical substation the utility plans to build in the next few years.