Pedestrian safety, panhandling focus of proposed ordinance in Sunset Hills

Bill cannot regulate actions, can only focus on safety


By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Sunset Hills is looking at creating and implementing an ordinance to increase pedestrian safety in the city.

The Board of Aldermen directed City Attorney Erin Seele Sept. 12 to draft an ordinance for the board’s review at its next meeting that would address panhandling in roadways and pedestrian safety. The topic was brought up by Mayor Pat Fribis. 

“I see people out panhandling, asking for money, signs that they’re homeless and that they’re having a tough time, and my heart goes out to all these people, and of course we want everyone to express their freedom of speech – I have no problem with that, but my major concern is safety,” Fribis said at the September board meeting. “I do not want to see anyone get hurt in anyway. I know other cities are limiting them to sidewalks; they cannot step into the street.” 

Cities cannot regulate panhandling because it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, however they can in someways regulate where people can stand based on safety concerns, such as prohibiting panhandling on an interstate highway on-ramp. 

“There would have to be a safety ordinance in place for the police department to be able to do anything,” Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson said. Epperson sits on the city’s Police Advisory Board.

 Ward 2 Alderman Christine Lieber said there were multiple concerns with panhandling, including littering and exchanging money on the street. 

“Maybe we could put some language in  there that says no exchange of currency on the street, no littering and no walking in the right-ofway because it is a safety concern when these people are walking up to your door or car window and it is a distraction,” Lieber said. 

Seele replied that from a safety and littering aspect an ordinance could be put in place as long as the city left “reasonable method for them, for anyone, to exercise their constitutional rights.” 

“The exchange of money is more difficult because that is then grabbing out a specific activity … because when you’re generally calling out a specific, content-based restriction … any city … is going to be put under a strict scrutiny standard,” Seele said. 

While the exchange of money cannot be restricted, the act of exchanging money could violate a safety ordinance if a person steps out into a traffic lane to have that transaction. 

“If you’re running out into the street, it doesn’t matter what you’re running out into the street to do, it would be covered,” Seele said. 

Ward 1 Alderman Ann McMunn asked if any safety ordinance would apply Old Newsboy Day, an annual event where volunteers sell an Old Newsboys newspaper on street corners to raise money for children’s charities, or when firefighters “fill the boot” by asking for donations on street corners. 

Seele said that it would. 

“The fact remains, people walking in the street – we can’t have people walking in the street, for whatever reason they’re walking in the street,” Ward 3 Alderman Cathy Friedmann said. 

Some aldermen questioned if this applied to medians. Seele said that typically medians fall under the definition of the roadway, unless there is no sidewalk available and the median is the only option in terms of safety. 

“We would suggest that when there is not a sidewalk available then they could (be on the median) but generally when there’s a sidewalk they should be on that sidewalk because that is the designated area,” Seele said. 

Fribis said she was waiting to hear back from the mayor of Kirkwood to see if that city had ordinances on the books related to pedestrian safety and being in roadways. Kirkwood and Sunset Hills share a boundary along Interstate 44. Lindbergh Boulevard goes under the interstate and people sometimes stand at the off ramp from I-44 to Lindbergh Boulevard asking people for money or passing out flyers. 

The board unanimously directed Seele to begin drafting an ordinance for review at its next meeting. 

Nearby Green Park has legislation similar to the one proposed in Sunset Hills. Green Park’s bill does not “single out any specific activity a person might undertake in the roadway” such as soliciting donations or passing out flyers, only that they are in the roadway and should follow safety rules, said Green Park City Administrator James Mello. 

Crestwood addresses solicitation in various parts of its code. If someone were to solicit on a public roadway, they must obtain a permit, be over the age of 18 and remain on the median. People in the actual flow of traffic fall under the city’s “Disturbing the Peace” section, Crestwood Deputy City Administrator Jeff Faust said.