Almanac

News - March 31, 2010

Portola Valley: Cracking down on unauthorized solicitors

by Dave Boyce

Salespeople and solicitors going door-to-door in Portola Valley without first getting a permit will have an increasingly tough time of it now that the Town Council has asked law enforcement to crack down.

In an effort to encompass the competing priorities of a town that shows a warm welcome to cookie-selling Girl Scouts and a cold shoulder to magazine salespeople, the council at its March 24 meeting directed staff to work up a plan to educate residents about solicitation laws and inform them of renewed vigor on the part of sheriff's deputies to deal with un-permitted peddling, particularly when residents have their names on the "do not contact" list.

That list and its limitations led to the council's decision to take up the matter. The list does not apply to doorbell ringing by people advocating a religious or political point of view — the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects that behavior — but the town will now step up enforcement when salespeople lack permits or visit listed homes.

"We want to be able to actually demonstrate that Portola Valley is a bad place to solicit if you solicit somebody who doesn't want to be contacted," Ed Davis, the town's police commissioner, told the council.

Salespeople are attuned to "no solicitors" signs, and Mr. Davis spoke up for the idea of encouraging tasteful signs that include an ordinance number, but the council didn't buy it.

Such signs are, in the opinion of Mayor Steve Toben, unsightly, unfriendly and inappropriate. "I think there are a lot of residents who might agree with me," he added.

Councilwoman Maryann Derwin did. "I would not put a sign on my house and when I see one of those little signs, I feel hostile to those persons," she said. "We are not a gated community like Atherton. We're friendly."

Legitimate solicitors can be serious about their missions, including "trying to feed their families," Councilman John Richards reminded the council. "We don't want to be unfriendly to that."

And political and religious advocacy is "allowable actually anywhere in the country, including Portola Valley," Councilwoman Ann Wengert noted.

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