City powerless to expel panhandlers

The prevalent problem of panhandlers has been repeatedly reported via community social media sites, and now has made its way to Cambridge City Council. During the June 15 council meeting, Council Member Joe Morin mentioned how he has repeatedly been approached by residents asking the city to do something about the individuals or group of individuals that habitually are asking for “money for gas” on the east end of town near WalMart.

“I’ve gotten two calls and one person stopped by my house asking about the panhandlers,” Morin said. “One lady was in my face demanding that we get that removed, wondering why we don’t have an ordinance against panhandling.”

Unfortunately for those who are concerned about such an activity, Morin and the rest of the council was informed there isn’t much they can do about it.

“Minnesota State Statute... all it states is ‘no person shall stand on a roadway for the purpose of soliciting employment, business, or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle,’” said Cambridge Police Chief Todd Schuster. “It sounds like there’s been challenges in courts and they named it a First Amendment right.”

“It has some Constitutional issues with it,” added City Administrator Lynda Woulfe. “We’ve had some people posting on Facebook, so we sought the city attorney’s opinion on it a couple years ago to see if we could adopt an ordinance. If I recall correctly, it’s a Constitutional right, a Freedom of Speech. You can’t regulate their speech.”

Woulfe said the only power the city has is to ask people to move off of a public right-of-way, but even that poses issues as they can just claim they are walking on a public sidewalk. 

Woulfe said the only real way to get rid of them is to in essence, ignore them.

“I know it’s frustrating for people, but if contributions aren’t made, then they will move to a place where contributions will be made,” Woulfe said.

If the people are standing on private property, Woulfe said the owner of the property can have them removed based on trespassing laws. 

Odds and ends

In other council action, the council:

Approved amending the ordinance on mobile food vendors to exempt any businesses that operate a food truck in addition to their brick-and-mortar business within city limits from having to obtain a mobile food truck license from the city.

Approved amending the park regulation ordinance to now allow for pets to be brought into the spectator area of Sandquist Park. According to Woulfe, the softball association originally requested pets be banished following a dog bite incident many years ago. Since that time, the association has changed its mind and requested pets now be allowed.

Approved the purchase of LED lights for the City Hall parking lot.

Approved the purchase of a 2020 Dodge Durango for the Police Department, which will be used by Chief Schuster. His current vehicle will be retained and used by the GIS Coordinator.

Authorized the closure of Main Street on the third Thursday of each month for the Downtown Association to hold their “Third Thursday” events.

Approved amending the zoning ordinance for B2 districts to allow for convenience stores and gas stations “by right,” as opposed to the current need for an Interim Use Permit. 

According to Community Development Director Marcia Westover, she has been working with a developer who may be interested in building a “multi-million-dollar” gas station/convenience store/car wash on the east end of Cambridge. Westover said the developer indicated the requirement of an IUP is unrealistic since they have to be renewed every certain number of years, which provides no guarantee the business could continue operating at that site.

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