Wed04162014

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Solicitors on the rise: Door-knocking season arrives, welcome or not


Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File PhotoAlthough Los Altos resident Kathy Danforth welcomes a visit from Jan Pepper, campaigning for a seat on the Los Altos City Council last fall, the city prohibits some types of solicitation.

Dinner plates sit on the kitchen table and the family is about to begin eating when the doorbell rings. It’s not food delivery or a courier requesting a signature for a package – it’s too late in the day for that. The person standing on the welcome mat does not look familiar, and irritability sets in as the solicitor waits for a response.

“I was really bugged by it,” said a Pepper Street resident who recently encountered a confrontational solicitor at the door after 6:30 p.m. “I went to the door with the attitude that I was going to be really annoyed.”

Although occasional unexpected callers are routine in Los Altos’ residential areas – and, in some cases, welcome, particularly if it’s a local group selling cookies or a neighbor running for office – overly aggressive solicitors may not only be annoying, but also a public danger.

What started as a knock at the door ended with the Pepper Street resident calling the police after the solicitor lied about being a neighbor and became aggressive when questioned for specifics. A string of lewd gestures and words from the solicitor to the resident culminated in a near miss by a wayward rock.

Not only was the solicitor in violation of city municipal code restricting door-to-door canvassing from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but he also failed to secure a permit, according to police. Although typically a citation would be issued in such a case, police arrested the Pepper Street solicitor because he already had two warrants out for his arrest. Neighbors said they were unable to determine what he was selling, if anything.

“Quite a few solicitors have criminal pasts and are just looking for opportunities to take advantage of unsuspecting residents,” said Los Altos Police Capt. Andy Galea, explaining why residents should be particularly wary of strangers angling for information or an invitation into their living rooms. “Regardless of who comes to your door, if you don’t know the individual, don’t open your door.”

The line between legal and illegal

According to Galea, Los Altos is bustling with peddlers during the spring and summer months. They go door to door selling goods or services delivered immediately or take orders for future deliveries.

In March, the police department received nine complaints about unwelcome solicitors, but Galea noted that further unreported activity may be occurring.

It is illegal in Los Altos to sell goods or services worth more than $10 without securing a permit from the city clerk. The application process is thorough, requiring an applicant to complete fingerprinting forms for submission to the FBI. Los Altos Hills also requires solicitors to apply for permits if they wish to sell door to door in town.

In both cities, solicitation is limited to 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and permits must be visible at all times. If a resident posts a “No Soliciting” sign, then the solicitor must bypass the house.

“If a solicitor is overly aggressive or intimidating, call the police,” Galea said, adding that police can issue citations to the violators.

Not all door-to-door visitors require permits. Galea said the police cannot cite people or groups seeking donations or performing other kinds of outreach.

“If they want to go door to door to spread their word, there’s no prohibition,” he said, pointing to religious and church groups that knock on doors.

To report solicitors in violation of Los Altos’ municipal code, call the Los Altos Police Department at 947-2770. Residents of Los Altos Hills can report solicitors without permits to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s West Valley Division at (408) 868-6600.

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