OAKLAND — A year after BART staff first proposed a ban on panhandling in response to an especially violent summer, one director has resurrected the controversial issue, an ordinance that would have an impact on buskers and beggars alike.
The proposed ban — which BART board Director Debora Allen brought forward last week — would prohibit people from asking for money on trains or within the paid areas of the stations. BART is losing riders, she said. The number of people riding the system dropped more than 16 percent between June of 2015 and June of 2018, according to the agency. Allen said it was time to respond to some common complaints from riders.
“We have to start addressing why riders are unhappy with BART,” Allen said. “This is one component of it.”
But buskers are already balking at the potential loss of their livelihoods. On Friday evening, Oakland emcee Antonio “Tone” Oliver organized a performance outside the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland to protest the proposed prohibition. He was joined by a half dozen performers and several dozen supporters.
“This (ban) is an active attack on artists livelihoods,” Oliver said. “Its just another step forward in making the Bay Area an area that is only comfortable for people of a certain demographic, for gentrifiers.”
At the Fruitvale BART station on Friday, most riders opposed the ban, with some saying they were indifferent to people begging on the trains or in stations — so long as it was a polite, not aggressive, ask — and others supportive. Monica Rivera, of San Leandro, says she feels sorry for the people who walk the aisle of the train, asking for alms.
“I know some people use it as a scheme to make money but there are genuinely poor people who need the help,” she said. “And I would feel uncomfortable about someone who needs help, not letting them even ask.”
Others said they sometimes feel trapped and almost forced to donate when they would prefer not to on the trains. Daily BART rider Gerardo Martinez, of Oakland, said he would like to see the agency put a stop to people asking for money.
“I really think theyre a pain,” he said. “I dont like it.”
Its not the first time the issue has come before BART or its governing board. Last year, former General Manager Grace Crunican proposed the ban as a part of a larger, 12-part security plan, following three homicides in July, including the stabbing death of 18-year-old Nia Wilson.
The board adopted some of the proposed plan, beefing up surveillance at stations, more than doubling its fare inspection staff, adding more police officers and accelerating its efforts to make it more difficult for people to enter stations without paying. But there wasnt a majority of directors to support the proposed ban, which would need five out of nine members to support it. Aggressive panhandling is already a misdemeanor in California, whether on BART or a street corner.
Since last summer, however, the composition of the board has changed, and when Allen proposed the ban, she did so with the support of two other members, directors John McPartland and Mark Foley. Foley said he supported her initiative because he wanted to discuss the proposal at a public meeting, “not on social media, not in the press, not on digital media.”
“The discussion should happen here,” he said, “where the decision makers can have an honest and open conversation about how to move forward.”
BART has attempted to ban busking and panhandling in the past, for example, in the early 1980s, when officers merely ejected people for that behavior, said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost. BART was sued over the ban and lost, she said. The courts did, however, allow the agency to put a permit system in place, which restricts where certain types of “expressive activities” can take place.
People gathering signatures for a petition, campaigning for a political candidate or proselytizing, for example, must do so outside the paid areas of the station, Trost said. The same is true for any kind of commercial activity, including nonprofit sales. The problem is, she said, theres no real way to enforce it.
The general manager of BART at the time instituted the permit policy, but the board of directors never codified it as an official ordinance. The legal distinction is important, she said, because it dictates whether police can cite offenders.
“Police can only enforce an ordinance or something in the penal code,” Trost said, adding that the permit system, “is only a BART rule.”
Nor does BART have the ability to regulate the types of speech it allows inside the trains and stations, said Abre Conner, a lawyer with the ACLU. BART cant restrict where people can participate in free speech activities, nor determine the types of content that are permitted — for example, allowing performing but prohibiting asking for donations afterward. .
“Asking for donations squarely falls within the First Amendment,” Conner said. “What (Allen) is proposing is not restricting everything, but shes only restrictinRead More – Source