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79 Years Ago: Los Angeles Bans Begging in Downtown Business District

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, June 22, 2010, at 02:52PM
Spring and 7th, 1937 Dick Whittington Studio / USC Digital Archives [digitallibrary.usc.edu]

If any panhandlers were found in this 1937 scene of 7th and Spring, they could face up to six months in jail under the city's anti-begging ordinance.

On June 22, 1931, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that forbid begging in the Downtown business district. The law, proposed by the Downtown Business Men's Association -- the group that would later become the Central City Association -- applied to the area bounded by Hill, Main, 3rd and 9th, as well as to 7th street between Figueroa and Main.

Forbidden was "soliciting for alms," the wearing of "placards calling attention to ailments," the carrying of "cups or receptacles for the deposit of coins" and the blowing of "horns or instruments to attract attention," according to the L.A. Times.

The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor offense was a fine of $500 or six months imprisonment.

The ordinance was amended three years later to make it illegal to beg in hotels, apartment-houses, bungalow courts, office buildings and loft buildings without the consent of the building owner.

A much bigger change came on March 27, 1937, when Mayor Frank Shaw signed a revision that applied the anti-begging statute citywide.

It's unclear exactly when the law came off the books, but Los Angeles' Municipal Code today contains only a few specific begging statutes.

LAMC 41.59(b) forbids soliciting in an "agressive manner," defined as approaching someone in a way that is likely to make them fearful or intimidated, intentionally touching them or their vehicle without their consent, blocking their path, using violent or threatening gestures, persisting in following them after they have said no, or using profane, offensive or abusive language.

LAMC 41.59(c) forbids all solicitation within 15 feet of a bank or ATM, as well as that done by approaching someone in a vehicle, in a parking lot or structure after dark, or on public transportation.

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