City Posts New Anti-Panhandling Signs

Citing safety concerns for those soliciting on the medians at East Blithedale and Camino Alto, city posts signs encouraging residents to give to local charities instead of panhandlers.

“Want to help the needy? Rather than give money to street solicitors, contribute to recognized local charities and benefit our community.”

Those words appear on new signs posted this week at the intersection of East Blithedale Ave. and Camino Alto as part of the city of Mill Valley’s efforts to , citing concerns about safety and potential driver distraction.

The signs have incited a range of reactions.

“It’s dangerous for people to be on the median on East Blithedale, and they’re there because people give them money,” said Councilman Ken Wachtel. “I believe in that sign.”

Councilwoman Shawn Marshall said she agreed with the sentiment that residents should support local charitable organizations that help homeless people.

“On the other hand, as somebody who does periodically help out someone on the street corner, I feel like putting those signs up is a bit intolerant and lacking in human response,” she said. “It’s not my way of being in the world. Putting a sign up there is basically code for saying, ‘We don't want you in our town.’”

Marshall also questioned the sign’s effectiveness in spurring potential charitable donations.

People asking for money on Mill Valley’s prominent medians isn't a new phenomenon, and the same sign was posted at Miller Ave. and Camino Alto several years ago.

But the idea for the new signs originated from a number of residents’ complaints and about the issue over the past two years, according to City Manager Jim McCann. The posting of the signs was not the result of a council vote but by informal direction from a few councilmembers, he said.

In its discussions over the years, the council has stopped short of amending the city’s municipal code to prohibit soliciting in the public right of way areas like medians. That has largely been due to the complexity of “soliciting,” which could also encompass lemonade stands or community fundraisers in public areas, McCann said.

The signs strike a cost-effective balance between discouraging soliciting on the medians without getting into the broader issue of people soliciting within pubic spaces, McCann said.

The signs went up this week, with street supervisor Robert Zadnik saying that they were positioned under the traffic signals on the median, at least for now, because the intersection is laden with signage elsewhere.


So what do you think? Are the signs a good idea? Will they be effective in discouraging panhandling and encouraging donations to local charitable organizations?

Tell us in the Comments below.

Ken Broad July 06, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Panhandling is a lose-lose proposition and akin to feeding wild animals - it may initially feel good, but ultimately breeds dependency and encourages this behavior, which degrades the lifestyle of both giver & recipient - it is also dangerous having people solicit at busy intersections. I say this as someone who does not give to panhandlers but does donate to the SF-Marin Food Bank.
jerry slick July 06, 2012 at 04:21 PM
How many meals would the cost of signage and related bureaucracy have bought? At least they didn't commission another "study."
leah aaron July 06, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I agree with Mr. Broad's comments. Panhandling is indeed lose-lose. Many of us give generously and often to charities of our choice and these signs will serve as a reminder to do so. I hope it will also discourage panhandlers from constantly being at all four stops. Clearly these are not people who are temporarily down on their luck and need a little help from the community, this is a lifestyle.
Citizen July 06, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Give the panhandlers food not money. I watched one of them taking a break, moving from the median to one corner to smoke. Don't feed their habits. I give alot of money to the Food Bank and Glide Memorial Church.
katy Kuhn July 06, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Do we have "no loitering laws" that would refer to this lose-lose situation? That might seem the proper way to react to this unfortunate development. Would we let high school kids hang out on the medians and wave to onlookers? Or solicit charitable donations? No! Not for a moral reason but because it's dangerous! More than once I had to slam on my breaks as someone in front of me decided to stop on a green light to hand out a donation. Common sense is as important as Compassion... Safety as important as generosity.
Jordan Koch July 06, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Just what Mill Valley needs: more useless signs. I hear they only cost $100 a piece.
Margery Entwisle July 06, 2012 at 09:58 PM
It's human nature to keep doing something for which you get rewarded. If people stop giving money to the panhandlers, they will go someplace else. Hopefully, these signs will remind people to stop rewarding panhandling on the medians. As Leah Aaron said, this is a lifestyle - and they don't pay taxes on what they earn!
Magoo July 07, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Safety is an issue. But spending money on sign (no matter how little) telling us how we should spend our money is obnoxious as obnoxious as the people who are responsible for putting them up.
james thomas July 07, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Sorry, but the denial of homelessness and poverty in Mill Valley is the problem. So far I haven't seen our local, grown up here population pan handling, but this exist here and in all the suburbs. The usual pattern is to shift homeless / impoverished citizens to San Fancisco, thereby avoiding the problem. I don't like people having to pan handle anywhere, but here in Mill Valley we provide nothing. It's a joke. Get over it people. Poverty exist in this town and it could happen to you. How can we as a community help in a real way?
Jordan Koch July 07, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Panhandling in the median is the problem. It's as obnoxious here as it is in San Francisco. People only do that because drivers feel guilty and pay them. If there was no money in it people would panhandle somewhere else.
Entropy July 08, 2012 at 06:08 AM
The real reason for the signs is that certain people, like realtors, do not want Mill Valley to be associated with "poverty".
Eva Johansson July 08, 2012 at 07:02 AM
Safety is definitely a factor...I saw a guy with a walker fall onto his back in the street when leaving the median. If anyone had done a U turn while he was on his back trying to right himself, he would have been hit. There are a lot of really good local charities. If you feel bad for these people, give to the charities who can help without demeaning people or feeding addictions.
leah aaron July 08, 2012 at 03:26 PM
The real reasons for the signs are many. I am not a realtor and I called a couple of months ago to complain about the volume of people at all four stops at Blithedale and Camino Alto. Safety is a factor for sure. Also, as heartless as this may sound, I drive past there every day several times/day and I'm tired of looking at the same people begging for dollars. There are plenty of legit charities and shelters. When I was in college in Los Angeles I read that the guy who panhandled at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente made $38,000 a year and that was in 1984. I don't know exactly how much that would mean in today's world but I'm guessing more than the guy bagging groceries at Safeway. I may be alone in this, but I still don't think it's right to sit on a street corner and collect money. Not politically correct to say, but I'm betting that I am actually not the only one who thinks this.
Chaler July 08, 2012 at 05:43 PM
What about the professional (they don't do it out of belief in their causes, but rather for pay) signature gatherers we see all over downtown Mill Valley? They are annoying and self-righteous, besides being deceptive. If we are going to ban panhandling anyway (which is probably a bad idea from the perspective of limiting individual rights), shouldn't we first ban this activity?
Citizen July 08, 2012 at 07:18 PM
You have a point. If you don't consider the safety issue at the intersection, the signature gatherers are far worse. One does not have to interact with the panhandlers if one doesn't want to.
Rebecca Chapman July 08, 2012 at 09:19 PM
heartbreaking beyond words to read these comments. i never imagined how complex the daily struggles of the homeless were, until becoming one myself. eating, sleeping, peeing, pooping & just breathing freely without the judgement of one's community (and policeforce) take up almost all of one's time. i'm not a crack whore, or any of the other demeaning things i've been called. just a 'worker' who lost her job & home, that's all...
Rebecca Chapman July 08, 2012 at 11:05 PM
and, while i'm exposing myself a little, i'd just like to say it's not always as simple as just get a job, or receive some temporary help, preferably 'elsewhere' (according to my lovely neighbors). there was so much more to my situation than i ever imagined would get me here, and i think that's worth mentioning. hey, if rich people can drink, smoke & do whatever to relieve their stresses, why can't a homeless person sometimes do the same, as long as they're not being a menace to our society???
Chaler July 09, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Per the city manager, "the posting of the signs was not the result of a council vote but by informal direction from a few councilmembers". This seems troubling. Do individual councilmembers typically have the right to do this sort of thing? What limits exist on their authority?
Dave July 10, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Folks asking for money "help" on medians is not only dangerous for both drivers and persons 'panhandling' but create loads traffic .... The homeless have carte blanche in Mill Valley ...... My kids can;t set up a lemonade stand on a median why would it be OK to beg?
Rebecca Chapman July 10, 2012 at 05:39 PM
carte blanche??? really??? wow, i never felt my starving out in the streets of my own community could be viewed as such a luxury!!! maybe your kids could just bring me some lemonade sometime & i could share with them some fun tales of how it feels to be ostrasized by this uber wealthy town. i know i'm not the only one struggling here, but y'all chose to buy houses & cars, & have kids, didn't you?!
Liz Williamson July 12, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Jimmo you and I as usual are on the same page! All the comments I've read so far are just harsh judgements on other people's circumstances. So what if a homeless person is having a cigerette who cares! Would you honestly want to trade places? If you don't want to give money then don't. Personally, I'd rather give money to the person, at least I know who it went to as opposed to Glide or some other charity. Whether I give money or food quite frankly it is my own business. Who are you to tell me where and who to give my money too! I find the signs highly offensive!
Liz Williamson July 12, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Entopy, I am going to assume that you are a very young person and not experienced with the work force in Mill Valley or Marin County Your comment on realtors could not be further from the truth. Realtors in this county are some of the most generous people when it comes to giving time and money towards under previlege. I'd be happy to give you a list of realtors to get to know and you would be blown away by what they have accomplished for the under privilage. Google Katherine Munson for starters. I also can assure you the "realtors" had nothing to do with the sign. Being one myself and knowing plenty of realtors, alot of my collegues have found the sign to be as offensive as i do.
Liz Williamson July 12, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Really, you are equating homelessness with your children's lemonade stand? Does your children's lemonade stand money depend on thier survival? Have you every dealt with mental illness or substance abuse in your family? If you had, I don't think you would be so flippent with your comments.
Roy Forest July 12, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Ridiculous! The wasted time spent at meetings and the cost to make and put up these signs, should have been better utilized elsewhere. They will probably be the first signs to be defaced, trashed and graffiti covered... Then what.. you guessed it: ANOTHER MEETING!
Greg July 13, 2012 at 04:33 AM
What's most interesting to me is that I haven't seen anyone out there since the signs went up. So I think something "more" is going on here that we are not hearing about because the signs are nothing but a couple fools righteous cranial anal impaction. I actually gave all those people money and though the ones in the medium were risking injuries versus the ones on the sidewalk, they all were friendly and sure needed the money. To suggest that I give my money to some "real organization" is beyond stupid...I can do what I want with my money! I hope you all end up standing on that curb one day because it sure seems like you need it!
Rebecca Chapman July 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM
i chatted with one of the gentlemen who asks for money out there, and he mentioned that a bunch of them were getting sick, maybe because of temperatures, allergens, car exhaust, or whatever. so, they'd mostly stopped before the signs went up, apparently...
william luke rice September 12, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Well some homeless people put themselves there, some fall on hard times. Once you are homeless, even for a short time, it isn't easy to avoid drugs and alcohol, in fact it isn't even easy to remain sane, even if you remain sober, lack of sanitation, lack of sleep is the biggest factor, lack of food, anxiety etc. You could abandon the situation and let mill valley become a slum, you could over rely on police presence and risk becoming a fascist-enclave, like some of the gated communities in L.A. Or people could pull the resources together to put up a safe homeless shelter in Mill Valley, screen people for mental issues and drug use. The biggest problem with homeless people is separating the drug users from the mentally ill from few sober and sane homeless people. Most people who pull themselves out of homelessness have amazing mental resources and/or got a break somewhere. It isn't like you can just walk into a place and beg for a dishwashing job like you could 40 years ago. I haven't heard good things about any of the so-called shelters in Marin... Correct me if i am wrong....
LS September 12, 2012 at 05:32 AM
The reality is that being homeless is a full time job. Trying to find food, a place to rest, go to the bathroom, wash up, etc. takes a huge amount of time and a huge amount of effort. Getting to the social service agencies in Central and Northern Marin is almost impossible as public transportation costs money and isn't easy to access when you have all of your belongings with you. And with the economy the way it is, space in shelters and treatment programs is at a premium. Someone won't know if they can get a bed or services until they make the trek there. Consider yourself lucky if you've never had to spend the night in a shelter or rely on these agencies. Some are helpful and have dedicated staff, but some are not. A bed maybe available at night, but during the day you have to find another place to be. And there's no stability or guarantee you'll get the help you need - one night there's space, the next you arrive too late and all the beds are taken. Once you get into that situation, it's virtually impossible to get yourself out without serious help. We need alternatives for the homeless in Southern Marin. Something more then treating them as sub-human or shipping them to San Francisco / San Rafael. Let's see the Mill Valley City Council take that up at their next meeting and make a firm commitment to the safety and well-being of all its residents. Until then, I'll give money to whoever I decide to give it to.


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