Tuesday morning, the Memphis City Council’s public safety committee passed a pair of CCC-proposed ordinances aimed at curbing panhandling. One ordinance establishes restrictions on how close panhandlers can come to ATMs, hospital entrances, banks, trolley stops, and other public areas. That ordinance allows some zones downtown where passive panhandling (the panhandler doesn’t touch or follow the person they’re asking for money) is allowed.
The other ordinance would ban the sale of single beers in most downtown convenience stores. There are eight stores in the area that would be affected. It's bordered by Mill on the north, Fourth Street in most areas of the east (the border extends to Lauderdale at one point), Vance on the south, and Riverside on the west.
The small committee meeting room at City Hall was standing-room-only, as people on both sides of the issue packed the space. Many downtown business proprietors, including The Peabody Hotel's Doug Brown, spoke up in support of the ordinances. The owner of Jack’s Food Store took the other side, saying the beer ban would severely hurt his business. He claimed customers from all walks of life purchase single beers and should continue to have the right to do so.
Midtown resident Ceylon Mooney expressed concerns that the anti-panhandling ordinance would push panhandlers into his neighborhood. Councilwoman Wanda Halbert, the only committee member to vote against the no-panhandling zone ordinance, agreed.
“I’ve experienced panhandling at grocery stores and Wal-Mart in Whitehaven. I’m not sure how this ordinance is fair for people in other parts of the city,” Halbert said.
The council will further discuss the beer ban ordinance at its next committee meeting on Tuesday, March 9th. Both ordinances will be discussed in a first reading in city council on March 9th, as well.
In the first local public nuisance action against a set of condominium owners, Environmental Court judge Larry Potter ordered the Wooddale Condominiums property in Fox Meadows temporarily secured, after authorities found signs of illegal dumping, gang graffiti, and numerous fire, health, and code violations.
About 10 percent of the run-down units remain occupied, but all vacant properties were boarded. Those who continue to live on the property were allowed to stay, but the Memphis Police will be enforcing a no-trespassing policy in which only residents and their guests will be permitted onto the property.
“Those who are living here are living in unbelievable conditions, and we have an obligation to help them,” said district attorney Bill Gibbons, at a press conference held outside the condos Monday afternoon.
According to Memphis Police director Larry Godwin, undercover officers have made drug purchases near the abandoned condos. They’ve also documented acts of vandalism, theft of copper and plumbing piping, and criminal trespassing on the property.
“Squatters have been living in some of these empty condos,” Gibbons said.
The remaining owners are ordered to appear in Environmental Court on Friday, Feb. 26th to answer to allegations in the nuisance petition. Unlike with most nuisance closures in which the owner is held responsible, the Wooddale Condominium Association has been named as the defendant in the case.