City attorney says City doesn’t ban artists or panhandlers

Comments made by local resident and government watchdog B. J. Kalaidi during Monday night’s city commission meeting, exposed that, with no public notice, the city attorney and city manager decided in 2016 that the City would no longer enforce the City Code that prohibits panhandling in much of the historic area — on St. George Street, in the Plaza de la Constitution, and near the Castillo de San Marcos.

City Attorney Isabelle Lopez said a Tampa court case last year raised concerns about the constitutionality of St Augustine’s rules.  For them, the case meant that the parts of City Code that prohibit panhandling in certain areas are “questionable”, Lopez said.

“That’s why we have voluntarily chosen not to enforce prohibitions on panhandling that are simply based on zone geography,” Lopez said.

The city also isn’t enforcing time-of-day restrictions.

This prompted Historic City News to ask the City Attorney one, simple question — “If you can’t ban panhandling in downtown St Augustine, how can you ban artists?”

The response from Attorney Lopez was astonishing … “As you know, the City does not ban artists, nor does it ban persons panhandling.”

What?  Isn’t the City embroiled in a second iteration of a federal lawsuit that has been going on for years, brought by creative artists specifically for that very reason?

“The City, however, does have various regulations regarding time, place and manner restrictions covering street performances and panhandling respectively,” Lopez concluded.

This is the same Isabelle Lopez who just told the St Augustine Record in an article published today regarding the Tampa court decision, “That’s why we have voluntarily chosen not to enforce prohibitions on panhandling that are simply based on zone geography.”  Isn’t “zone geography” the same thing as “location”?

Lawyers and their doublespeak.

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