Chamber: Vagrants hurt business

April 26, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Members of this city's Chamber of Commerce said loiterers who mill about downtown are hurting business and they want the Calexico Police Department to boot the vagrants off the city's sidewalks.

Police Chief Mario Sanchez told the assembled chamber at its meeting Thursday that there is not much his officers can do.

"We have to have probable cause to make contact with a person. Our hands are tied in a sense," he said.


Cristina Rocha, owner of Cristina's Lingerie, said the city's "meter readers" could help with rousting vagrants instead of solely focusing on ticketing someone just after the meter expires.

Sanchez said the city's "traffic enforcement officers" are non-sworn officers who can't come into contact with the people Rocha identified as vagrants.

Real estate agent Blanca Lopez asked, "Why do we have ordinances, then, if they can't be enforced?"

Sanchez said the city has ordinances banning loitering and panhandling on the books but they are vague. He said he's planning on getting together with City Attorney Michael Rood to find out just how much the department can do.

Lopez said something needs to be done — and pronto — because the situation is terrible.

"Businesses are really suffering. Guys stand in front of Selwick's every day, the same guys. You start to recognize the faces. They're impeding traffic on the sidewalk and have to be hurting his business" she said.

She added: "I used to think the downtown was bad in the 70s but it's worse now. Everything is horrible. There is trash in the alleys. The city allows (downtown merchants) to have sidewalks sales and they don't pay for that space."

In addition, she said some merchants don't collect sales tax on some of the merchandise they sell. She said she knows that from personal experience because she used to work downtown.

Sanchez said the same concerns have been talked about for years and nothing has changed. He said he didn't know how everything could be fixed now.

Lopez said, "I've been around even longer than you! If New York can clean up, we can clean!"

Joe Moreno of Apple Market-Super Shopping said there is another way to deal with the situation.

He said, "I've found a good tool to use with the parachuters."

"The what?" he was asked by chamber Executive Director Hildy Carrillo-Rivera.

"Parachuters," Moreno repeated. "All of a sudden … they're here."

He said he has tried to get to know the individuals who sleep on the benches or hang out near the supermarket, even to the point of knowing them on a first-name basis.

"Every morning — Jim is there. When he punches out here comes Ed to take his place," he said.

By and large, the people hanging out in front of his store are friendly and when he wants them to move along or move their "basket of possessions," he said they usually do.

Lopez said maybe a combination of approaches could be utilized to solve the problem but something needs to be done.

Carrillo-Rivera recommended getting city officials and city councilmen together to help hash out solutions.

"We've done it before but we can try it again," she said.

In other business at Thursday's chamber meeting, City Councilman David Ouzan asked for chamber members to "come together, be united and make this community strong."

He asked for chamber members to participate in council meetings for the benefit of all involved.

"We're on the same ship," he said.

Taking him up on his offer immediately, Lopez asked if he'd look into the possibility of earmarking the city's transit occupancy tax revenue for the chamber coffers. TOT taxes are charged to lodgers staying in this city's hotels.

Lopez said the El Centro City Council has a similar deal worked out with its chamber.

With the increase in revenue, Lopez said the Calexico chamber wouldn't have to always concentrate on fund raising.

Ouzan said, "I'll look into that."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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