Bolstered by a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Los Angeles City Council gave preliminary approval Friday to an ordinance banning solicitation of money from passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes the airport, said the measure is needed to protect travelers from aggressive panhandling. She said the airlines, workers and the Airport Commission support the ban.
But in testimony shortly before the council's 9-2 vote, leaders of a group that raises money for an inner-city youth program said the measure unfairly lumps in legitimate groups with the abusive or fraudulent ones.
"If you put us out at the airport, you put us out of business," said Tonia Poe of Right Way Youth Activities.
With about three dozen youngsters in tow, Poe said airport solicitations are the sole source of the group's funds for educational field trips and other activities.
Her father, Naman Poe, said later that his organization raises about $100,000 a year from its solicitations at the airport.
But William Mall, property manager of Terminal 2, offered an opposing view.
"There is no other airport in the country that permits rows of people in various costumes, pretending to be priests, nuns and missionaries . . . addressing passengers with threats, profanities and insults on their way to the airplane," Mall said.
Councilmen Mike Feuer and Richard Alarcon voted no, urging the council to come up with an alternative that does not infringe on people's free speech rights and leaves room for polite solicitations for legitimate causes.
Other council members said they sympathized with such groups as Poe's but enough was enough.
"I got solicited four times, from curb to plane," Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. said of an experience this week in catching a flight to Washington. "Other people told me they had been solicited six or seven times or more."
If the ordinance is enacted, as is expected, it would prohibit requests for money, property or "anything else of value" in airport parking areas, terminals and sidewalk areas outside the terminals and parking structures.
The ban would extend to pledges of donations and to selling of goods purported to benefit charitable or religious purposes.
Airport officials tangled for years with religious sects and others over city efforts to kick beggars out of the airport. Attorneys for the Society of Krishna Consciousness and other groups prevailed in court battles through the 1970s and 1980s.
But in 1992, the nation's high court ruled against the Hare Krishna sect by upholding a New York solicitation ban.
Quick adoption of a Los Angeles ban was held up when opponents raised questions about whether it would violate the state Constitution.