Panhandling not illegal, police say; But ‘aggressive panhandling’ grounds for a ticket in La Jolla

Last week, La Jolla Light received the following letter asking about the legality of panhandling in San Diego:

“In recent weeks, I have seen three instances where panhandlers on the medians on Torrey Pines Road or La Jolla Shores Drive have fallen, stumbled or miss stepped into the street and oncoming traffic. At both locations, there are two lanes of cars/trucks turning left. At La Jolla Shores Drive, drivers making the tight turn are additionally watchful for vehicles turning in or coming out of the gas station. This is dangerous for both parties and nearby vehicles.

I ask the La Jolla Light to please provide the following information or at least where concerned drivers can find the information in an effort to be safe drivers:

  • What are the legal rights of panhandlers?
  • What liability exposure do drivers have if a person places themselves in front of an oncoming, traveling vehicle?
  • What are the legal rights of the drivers not to have their vision impaired or distracted by persons using the safety medians for unlawful purposes?”

As promised, we reached out to San Diego Police Community Relations Officer Larry Hesselgesser for some answers. He responded that it is not illegal to panhandle in the City of San Diego by holding up a sign asking for money. However, if the panhandler got “aggressive,” by yelling at someone or pounding on a car window (aka “panhassling”), that is illegal. It is also illegal to interfere with traffic.

Should aggressive panhandling occur, the victim would need to file a police complaint. If a police officer witnesses the violation, the officer could issue a ticket.

As to what would happen if a panhandler entered into traffic and was hit by a motorist, Hesselgesser said, “If he or she stumbled or fell into traffic and was hit in an unavoidable situation, the driver of the vehicle would not be at fault.”

In a story on panhandling by the Los Angeles Times, it was reported: “Like other California cities, San Diego also has to contend with a 1991 federal court ruling that struck down the state’s century-old anti-panhandling law as an infringement of freedom of speech.”

Fellow La Jollans: Please send La Jolla Light your leads for Village eyesores and we will go after the perpetrators.

E-mail the scenarios and attach a photo, or call us and we’ll investigate who or what is Tarnishing Our Jewel! Reach Editor Susan DeMaggio at (858) 875-5950 or e-mail: