HAYWARD -- Far fewer handouts of free food will take place in downtown parks after the City Council unanimously approved rules that will greatly restrict the gatherings.
The new rules approved Tuesday will allow one food distribution a month at any city-owned property, including Portuguese Park, the most popular site. People handing out food will be required to get city permits and insurance.
The new rules are not intended to solve the problems of homelessness or hunger, but to help resolve a problem downtown and make it a more attractive destination, Councilwoman Barbara Halliday said.
"Our primary responsibility is to guarantee public safety and quality of life," Halliday said.
"This is a bad ordinance," Robert Goodwill, who identified himself as homeless, told the council. "It's not going to solve any problems. This ordinance is only going to cause more problems."
Other speakers predicted an increase in crime when the food handouts are reduced. "Hungry people will do whatever it takes to not be hungry, so be prepared to deal with a soaring crime rate related to shoplifting food," said Kevin Valley, one of those who hands out food.
Others were supportive of the rules, which also limit each permit holder to one outdoor food handout a month.
"We like what the city is trying to do," said Elie Goldstein, owner of Kraski's Nutrition, a downtown health store. He and six others introduced themselves as members of United Merchants of Downtown Hayward, which he described as about 30 business owners who want to help the city deal with downtown problems.
Joey Kunisaki, whose Wakamatsu restaurant is near Portuguese Park, wrote a letter describing homeless people relieving themselves in his parking lot, dumping trash, spitting at his windows and demanding food. He wrote that his restaurant had been broken into six times in the past six months.
"We used to go to Portuguese Park on our break time, but we no longer go there because the park smells really bad; it's not clean, always dirty. I feel unsafe there, and it is scary," he wrote.
For the first year of the new rules, Hayward will not charge for city food-sharing permits. However, permit holders will be required to provide a $500 refundable damages deposit and get food-training certification from Alameda County. The rules would not apply to food pantries, indoor feeding sites or food distribution on private property.
While estimates vary, city officials say six to 12 groups, some informal and some representing churches, feed the hungry and homeless at the parks, with some of the gatherings attracting 50 to 100 people. About one food distribution takes place every day.
"The intent was to regulate the time, place and manner where food could be distributed," said Assistant City Manager Kelly McAdoo. The city has received numerous complaints about problems at food-sharing sites, including human waste and debris, she said.
Distribution of food will be banned outside the Main Library and at Giuliani Plaza, which has a playground, and a sunset-to-sunrise curfew will be instituted at city-maintained parks. Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, which operates most parks in the city, already has such a curfew.
The council also directed the staff to continue working with the community to establish an indoor center that also would provide other services, such as counseling and training.
"People need to receive these services, not just food, that get them on the right track," Councilman Marvin Peixoto said.
Councilman Greg Jones said that while he regretted that an ordinance was needed, he hoped it would accelerate the effort to find a facility for feeding people inside in a respectful way, something that has been discussed for years.
"We think we can move outdoor distribution indoors, but it's going to take a little time," said Sara Lamnin of Community Action Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping the homeless become self-sufficient.
The city has budgeted $250,000 in grants to Hayward emergency shelters and homeless prevention programs and $78,000 to programs that provide food to the needy.
"This city has done a lot through our social services program," Halliday said. "We're all caring people."