Asking for money on some Merced medians could soon be a misdemeanor

MERCED, Calif.

It is not unusual to see people asking for money along the streets of Merced.

"I don't see no danger. I haven't had no problems," homeless man David said.

But police say it can be dangerous when those individuals stand in the narrow medians between busy roads.

"It's not made to walk on. It's made to divide traffic, and if people stand on it it's really easy for someone to slip and fall into traffic and get hurt," Capt. Tom Trindad with the Merced Police Department said.

Officers and city leaders are also worried about cars crashing into each other when drivers stop to hand out money. That is why the council is considering a new ordinance that would prohibit lingering, loitering, or soliciting on medians. The regulations would apply to G, M, R, and V Streets plus Olive and Yosemite Avenues and Auto Center Drive.

"The idea is that we want to get them off of the center medians where it's really dangerous if you think about it. We've got people who are driving 30, 40, 50 mph down the streets of Merced and it's really not safe to be out there trying to collect money from people," City of Merced Spokesperson Mike Conway said.

The city considered similar ordinances in Fresno and Hanford, which allow special permits for fundraisers such as Kids Day and Fill the Boot. But Merced officials decided the restrictions should apply to everyone.

"There will not be a permit process like some other cities have because the courts have come in and started saying the permit process is not constitutional," Conway said.

The city fire chief is concerned the ordinance could make it more challenging to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association because the medians give firefighters quick and easy access to both lanes of traffic. But he says they will find a way to make it work.

"We don't like the fact that charities are going to be affected like this, but still the overall interest is public safety," Trindad said.

The ordinance would not prevent soliciting on the sides of streets, only on those median islands. A first reading will take place during Monday's council meeting, and if it's approved a second reading will be scheduled. If it passes then the ordinance would take effect in 30 days.

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