Anchorage Spends Nearly $9K on Signs for Anti-Panhandling Law Deemed Unconstitutional

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, spent nearly $9,000 on new anti-panhandling signs, but the law cited in the signs was deemed unconstitutional nearly 10 years ago. They began appearing last month at some of the city's busiest intersections, taking some residents and even the police by surprise.

The signs read: "Panhandling prohibited on median or roadway" and directs people to "Contribute to the solution" by donating to charities instead of giving to pedestrians who may solicit money from motorists at red traffic lights. A small illustration of coins falling into a hand is surrounded by a red circle with a slash down the middle

The signs reference part of a state law and a city ordinance underneath the text, but a note in the municipal code states that the Alaska Superior Court ruled the ordinance was unconstitutional in 2014.

The city's traffic engineering department ordered 200 of the anti-panhandling signs, and 68 have been posted so far at 20 intersections for the price of $8,689. City ombudsman Darrel Hess wrote in an email to Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia that the public works director did not know about the court's constitutionality ruling when he had the signs made.

Anchorage Panhandling Signs
The city of Anchorage, Alaska, spent nearly $9,000 on new anti-panhandling signs, but the law cited in the placards was deemed unconstitutional nearly 10 years ago. Downtown Anchorage, Alaska, is seen on March 5, 2020.

Mayor Dave Bronson made cracking down on low-level infractions sometimes associated with homelessness a priority of his campaign before taking office in July.

Brice Wilbanks, the mayor's former campaign manager and now a city government staffer, first approached the city's traffic engineering department about the signs, Hess wrote in the email to Perez-Verdia.

It's not clear when the signs started going up, but the ombudsman started receiving complaints about them in December.

"I expressed my concerns with the MOA [Municipality of Anchorage] placing signs in public spaces that reference a section of code that has been held to be unconstitutional by the Court," Hess wrote.

The signs are meant to "keep pedestrians away from dangerous situations in the roadway," Bronson's spokesperson Corey Allen Young told the Anchorage Daily News.

A legal review of the signs is underway, city Attorney Patrick Bergt said.

"We are aware of concerns related to designs, we're addressing as needed, and will remedy if needed, as soon as possible."

The signs also came as a surprise to the Anchorage Police Department, whose officers are not citing anyone for panhandling, Police Chief Ken McCoy said.

Police haven't cited anyone for panhandling in years, added police spokeswoman Sunny Guerin.

However, three people have been cited since 2020 under a different ordinance that prohibits people soliciting or collecting contributions from occupants of vehicles in roadways, said another police spokesperson, Renee Oistad. It was not clear why this ordinance was not cited on the signs.

When asked why the city didn't coordinate with the police department and if the remainder of the 200 signs would be posted, Young said that "coordination and discussions" are ongoing on both topics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.