By Betty Yu

WALNUT CREEK (KPIX 5) – BART Director Debora Allen says that among the areas of dissatisfaction for riders, panhandling is one she gets consistent, negative feedback about on a weekly basis.

“The majority I see is the people handing tissues with notes,” said Damon Prasad of Foster City.

Prasad rides the BART once or twice a week.

Allen says she plans to introduce the topic at this week’s board meeting. It would apply to paid areas of BART.

“What the panhandling ordinance would prohibit is people asking for money and that would have to include the street performers that, or I should say the train performers who ask for money after they perform. But it also includes people like the women who walk around with infants in slings,” said Allen.

KPIX 5 did an investigation in 2017 about just that kind of begging. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office called it highly organized and lucrative.

“I’ve lived in cities my whole life, so it doesn’t bother me that much. But like I guess it would be nice if they didn’t. But I feel kind of bad, they’re homeless, they need money,” said BART rider Katya Cohen of Clayton.

Because BART currently does not have an anti-panhandling rule, there are no details about how it would be enforced.

“My experience has been most of the time they have been friendly, and not overly aggressive,” said BART rider Sam Deep of Walnut Creek.

Right now, only “aggressive panhandling” and loud music are violations of the penal code.

Critics of an anti-panhandling ordinance say it would step on civil liberties because the practice is a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

On Thursday, Allen expects to have the support of two colleagues to ask BART staff to help write the ordinance. Her hope is that a first draft will be done by early October.

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