Residents eye hawkers p.12

By: Joe Strupp California hawking program criticized as unsafe

A Southern California nonprofit group that hires the homeless to hawk newspapers on street corners has come under fire in one community, where city officials claim the sales are a safety hazard and a violation of the law.
The dispute in Carlsbad, Calif. pits those who hawk papers for the North County Times of Oceanside, Calif., and The San Diego Union-Tribune against city officials who had long allowed the hawking but have considered banning the practice in the wake of recent residential complaints.
"It's a safety issue," says Ray Patchett, city manager for the 75,000-population beachfront community north of San Diego, which recently appointed a committee to study the issue. "We are concerned about the safety of the hawkers and motorists."
Chris Megison, regional director of The Alpha Project, which places the formerly homeless and drug-dependent in hawking jobs as part of a nonprofit transition program to full-time employment, disagrees.
"These people are not putting their hands out with a sign, they are working for a living," says Megison, who has placed hawkers in Carlsbad through the 93,000-circulation Times since 1993. Carlsbad technically outlawed newspaper street sales in 1980, according to city attorney Ron Ball. He says the California Legislature added a similar statewide law in 1981 that bans hawking near freeway interchanges.
When The Alpha Project expanded into Carlsbad nine years ago through the former Blade-Citizen, police did not actively cite the hawkers as long as no other laws were broken by them, Ball says. Recently, however, the hawkers have become a target of new criticism after complaints from residents that they block traffic and cause accidents and near-misses, Ball says.
On March 9, the five-member city council voted, 3-2, to appoint an ad-hoc committee to study the issue and recommend changes. "The [hawking] activity will continue to be allowed until there is an alternative," Ball says. The Alpha Project operates a seven to 12 month transitional program that trains the hawkers to work in full-time jobs when they leave. The first job for most of the clients is the hawking program, which pays them $20 per day.
"The community really gives [the hawkers] positive reinforcement," says North County Times publisher Richard High, who distributes about 1,200 newspapers weekly in Carlsbad through the hawkers.
The 375,000-circulation Union-Tribune, which sells about 10,000 papers each day in Carlsbad, distributes only about 800 weekly through hawking, according to circulation manager Mike Manning. He says the hawkers should be left alone to work. "I think it has worked out well so far," he says.


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