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BART Board to Take Up Proposed Anti-Panhandling Law

BART will debate whether to ban panhandling in its stations and on its trains by the end of October.

At Thursday's BART Board of Directors meeting, BART Director Debora Allen introduced a proposed ordinance that would prohibit solicitation for money in the paid areas of the BART system. The ordinance could affect not only panhandlers but also musicians and artists who busk in the system.

Allen had previously announced via social media and in news reports that she planned to pursue the ordinance.

"Why do (BART) riders endure constant panhandling on trains?" she wrote on Twitter on Aug. 3. "Because some Board Directors oppose prohibiting it. A Board ordinance is all that's needed and is achievable with only 5 director votes. Who's in?"

Two colleagues had to support the ordinance for the full board to take it up. Directors John McPartland and Mark Foley supported it.

But Foley said during Thursday's meeting that his support was because he wanted to have an open debate at a meeting, "not on social media and not in the press," hinting at Allen's public announcements.

"I believe in honest and open communication," Foley said.

Allen could face an uphill battle to pass the ordinance, particularly after the American Civil Liberties Union released a public comment letter on Wednesday questioning whether such an ordinance would be permissible under the Constitution.

"Panhandling, as well as busking and other types of communication where individuals may solicit and receive donations, are forms of speech protected under the First Amendment," ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Abre' Conner wrote in a letter to the BART board. "Singling out and prohibiting these forms of communication would restrict speech based on its content."

Conner cited a preliminary injunction won by the ACLU in federal court last year that stopped enforcement of a similar city of Sacramento law.

BART Director Rebecca Saltzman requested a legal analysis of the proposed ordinance based on the ACLU's letter. BART's general counsel Matt Burrows said that BART's legal department has worked on an ordinance in light of the Sacramento case.

The item is expected to come before the board sometime before the end of October.

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