In a busy Tuesday night meeting, the Yakima City Council changed a street name to honor a World War ll hero, banned panhandling at busy intersections and prohibited smoking at special events in public parks.
In a 4-3 vote, the council effectively banned panhandling at 15 of the city’s busiest intersections.
Council members Kathy Coffey, Rick Ensey and Bill Lover opposed the measure, which prohibits taking anything offered from a vehicle within 250 feet of the 15 “high accident” intersections. A first-time violation would result in a $95 fine for the person taking the item.
The measure also makes aggressive panhandling, such as using threatening language or touching a person, a misdemeanor, allowing police officers to issue citations based on reported incidents. Currently, it’s an infraction, which officers can only issue a citation for if they witness the action.
Supporters say it is a start to tackling the issue of panhandling.
“This will deal with 15 intersections, but it doesn’t deal with the whole problem,” Councilwoman Sara Bristol said.
The three council members who voted against the measure said it doesn’t go far enough or will be too difficult to enforce.
Yakima police Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr. said it gives officers another tool in dealing with panhandlers.
In a 6-0 vote, the council also approved a marketing campaign with the message that giving money to panhandlers often contributes to substance abuse, and to encourage people to give money to social service groups instead. Councilman Dave Ettl recused himself from the vote, because he works for a radio station that could get advertising dollars from the campaign. Mayor Micah Cawley works for the same company, but the city attorney said neither one had to recuse himself.
The campaign will use an array of methods to get the word out, including social media, radio and television.
The council cut one element of the city staff’s panhandling proposals: giving meters — refurbished parking meters painted red meant to encourage people to give loose change to social service programs rather than to panhandlers.
Council members said the money — a few hundred dollars per meter — could be better spent elsewhere. Even Ensey, who first proposed the meters, turned his back on them, saying, “If it’s going to cost that much money, it’s probably not worth it.”
The council unanimously voted to rename a section of A Street in downtown Yakima, stretching from Front Street east to 11th Street, to “Staff Sgt. Pendleton Way, MOH.”
The last three letters are an acronym for Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor. Army Staff Sgt. Jack James Pendleton is the only Yakima native to earn the medal.
A Street held significance for Pendleton, who likely left Yakima to fight in Europe from the train station that looks down A Street. A few years later, his body likely came home via the station, said Rick Beck, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era.
Pendleton died in 1944 in Bardenburg, Germany, sacrificing himself to help knock out enemy machine guns that had pinned down his unit.
The council first considered the petition — which was backed by two veterans groups — in August, but it hesitated when a resident objected, saying the city hadn’t fairly considered his group’s 2006 proposal to rename the street after civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Having determined that the city duly considered the earlier petition, the City Council passed the current proposal.
But the resident who objected, Alonzo Marquez, accused the council of “race discrimination,” and threatened to pursue a lawsuit.
“The due process is done. That’s stated clearly in the record,” Cawley said.
The council also banned smoking at special events in public parks and within 25 feet of public playgrounds in a 5-2 vote. Ensey and Lover opposed the measure as overreaching.
Ettl called it a “reasonable middle step.”