Publication Date: Wednesday May 21, 1997

Not all panhandlers are opposed to the new law

While most surveyed oppose the new ordinance, some find it reasonable

Most of those who will be affected directly by the ban on sitting and lying on University Avenue--the panhandlers--oppose Palo Alto's ban on sitting or lying on the sidewalk.

But opinions among panhandlers are far from uniform: There are some who say the ordinance--which went into effect April 24--is a reasonable response to a handful of aggressive panhandlers who have come through town.

"It's the bad ones that come around here and make a bad impression on the ones trying to do a good job," said David "Doc" Stansfield, a homeless veteran who was once a regular fixture on the sidewalk outside Walgreen's. "They don't know how to panhandle."

Sitting on a bench outside Good Earth, Stansfield, who abandoned his old patch on University Avenue about nine months ago in favor of quieter spots in Menlo Park, explained the etiquette of panhandling.

"Holding a sign is much nicer," he said. "Would you like to walk up and down the street being asked for change? People get tired of hearing it."

Displaying a "homeless can you help" sign outside Good Earth restaurant, Stansfield's companion, Robert Peterson, smiled amiably at customers as they spilled out onto University Avenue.

"We don't cause no trouble; we're not hassling anyone," said Peterson. "We're homeless, but we're harmless."

Peterson, who has relied on a wheelchair since 1991, will not be affected by the ban on sitting and lying on University Avenue because wheelchairs are exempt from the ordinance. He agreed with Stansfield that the new law was reasonable and said that there were plenty of ways to get around it.

"The ordinance just says sitting or lying on the sidewalk," Peterson said. "It doesn't say anything about standing."

However, most Palo Alto panhandlers approached in an informal survey disagreed with Stansfield and Peterson's position, regardless of whether they will be affected by it themselves.

Some strongly resent the City Council's decision.

"They treat a dog better than human beings," said David Wormley, known as 'Cadillac,' a homeless man who is one of two community representatives on the executive board of Urban Ministry. "A dog can sit or lie on University Avenue, but a human being can't."

Wormley, who used to panhandle standing outside Walgreen's and Burger King in Palo Alto, will not be directly affected by the ban either. His normal haunts these days are Safeway and Trader Joe's in Menlo Park.

"People in Menlo Park are more open-minded, although people in Palo Alto have more money," he explained. "In Menlo Park, you can earn $15 in two hours."

"I don't like to be in Palo Alto, because I'm from Palo Alto. It makes you feel bad to see people that you grew up with," he said.

Wormley, who is forced to "post up"--or panhandle--at the end of the day if he has not made enough money from repairing bikes, does not regard begging as a job. "It's not a living doing this," he said. "You can't get pensions, you can't get Social Security."

The trouble spot of Palo Alto, according to Stansfield, is outside Walgreen's where most downtown panhandlers can be found. Among them is Robert Fulton who usually is found holding a sign asking for money. But on occasion he does ask people if they can spare some change.

"Fulton only makes a bad impression when he gets inebriated," Stansfield said.

One particularly aggressive panhandler roamed the area last year but was soon chased out of town as he began to give the rest a bad name, downtown observers say.

Since the passage of the sit-lie ordinance on April 24, Fulton is the only panhandler who still sits regularly on the portion of University Avenue sidewalk affected by the ban. But as long as violators stand up when warned, police say they won't issue citations.

And until the city attorney has reviewed police procedures for enforcing the ban, no citations will be issued at all, Chief Chris Durkin said.

"We were going to give warnings until at least 30 days after the ordinance came into effect," Durkin said. "Thirty days isn't a magic number; we'll still give warnings after that."

--Vicky Anning