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LOCAL Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights


(Note from SCruz: For my readers´ amusement, the following is an e-mail exchange between Santa Cruz Councilmember Mike Rotkin and homeless activists Becky Johnson and Robert Norse. Enjoy.)
At 12:24 PM -0700 7/13/04, Becky Johnson wrote:

To the Santa Cruz City Council and particularly Councilmember Mike Rotkin,

At the June 22nd, 2004 City Council meeting regarding the funding for the City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency, I asked a number of questions Vice-Mayor Rotkin was unable to deduce from the materials on the items submitted for public review prior to their appearing on the agenda. He agreed to follow up and answer the questions in writing.

1. Moving the fence around the planter in front of the Pacific Trading Company had staffing through the RDA but funding from the police department. How was this dual agency project managed?

2. How much was spent to remove the old railing, construct the new railing, install it, and paint it? What was the cost for the staffing time the RDA put into it? I understand this money was taken out of the SCPD budget. Is this true? Was the SCPD ever reimbursed for what was clearly a non-police expense?

3. Similarly, what was the cumulative cost of fencing off the planter in front of New Leaf market?

4. What process was used and what funds were spent to install the change machine in front of Borders Books? Regarding moving the benches in front of Borders Books, what groups met to make this decision? How much did it cost?

5. What further projects do city agencies have regarding eliminating more public space from the sidewalk by either (a) leasing the area to sidewalk cafes, (b) removing benches, (c) setting up additional sidewalk furniture that permanently removes publicly-used space, and (d) moving the railing on planters to make them unsittable?

Thanks to Mike for volunteering publicly to answer these questions.

6. I would also like a full accounting of the expenses incurred by the city attorney´s office for the last fiscal year since the contract makes it clear that $500,000 is only a fraction, the visible portion, of the fees we pay for their “services?. Please itemize all moneys given to the city attorney´s office for all services in the last fiscal year. Or let me know where this information is publicy (sic) available.

In the event that Mike is unable to answer these questions fully, please pass this request on to appropriate staff. Consider this a Public Records Act request to which I expect a response within 10 days.


Robert Norse, Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom


these are not the questions that you asked at the public meeting. Had you asked these questions, I would never have agreed to get answers for you. All of these have been answered for you and more than once and over a year ago. this is all a waste of city staff time (to say nothing of mine.) I am not wasting staff time to go back over the dead horse of the Pacific Trading Company planter, nor the one at New Leaf. The City Attorney costs are all in the public city budget. Let me know if you need help reading that. As far as the public records act, i am sure that submitting an email to me is not the way that happens, so you better make sure that someone else is given that request. mike

Mike Rotkin

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Re: E-Politics

not sure I understand the point here. a letter is written by r.norse and the answer is to b.johnson.
what is the point other than to embarress huff? is this an endorsement of m.rotkin and the council's policies in regards to pacific ave? is it to spotlight m.rotkin's wit?

Re: E-Politics

The Good Times writer, I think, was trying to point out how lame a City Councilmember can be and how evasive when dealing with specific questions on a subject he's publicly promised to address, as Rotkin did. He's being deceptive in claiming the questions laid out are "not the questions...asked at the public meeting". The question asked there was a broader question about RDA and city agency support for gentrification projects downtown, which each of my questions specifically relates to. Nor had any of the questions been answered previously.

It's a useful lesson for us as we face the upcoming foregone-conclusion plebiscite in November that will probably reelect the recycled redevelopment foursome Kennedy, Primack, Porter, and Reilly.

If sitting Councilmembers can brazenly lie while they sit at City Council, then guess what they'll do around election time when there's even less accountability. Rotkin's not up for reelection this year in the Recycle Derby, but four tired old faces are.

Sitting Councilmembers break their sworn commitments to constituents (Porter on bringing up the Sleeping Ban). They abruptly shift course on issues once in or close to power (Reilly supporting anti-homeless parking signs, permit parking, enforcement against Camp Paradise, endorsement of the Sleeping Ban). They arrogantly use power to punish opponents in violation of the Brown Act (Kennedy muzzling, harassing, and arresting opponents at City Council in violation of the "decorum rules"). They decline to communicate with those whose opinions they reject (Primack--hasn't returned a phone call or e-mail in 4 years).

Transcript of what was said at June 22nd city council meeting

Mike Rotkin did agree to answer these questions at the council meeting. He is now claiming he did not. See below:

June 22, 2004

3PM session

pulled consent items on : RDA budget, Lighthouse Field improvements,

Downtown Management Corporation, Downtown CSO’s, and City Attorney John Barisone’s contract for fiscal year 2004-2005

Notes and impressions by Becky Johnson.

June 23, 2004

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- With only three members of the public in the audience for the afternoon session, it was a surprise to see Officer Willie Brandt hanging out, toting a gun in a doorway, as if Santa Cruz is in a third world country. But there he was.

Mayor Scott Kennedy wanted it that way. Robert Norse and Becky Johnson were two of the three there. Here’s a little sampling of how it went:

Mayor Scott Kennedy: Mr. Norse, would you like to speak to those items?

Robert Norse: This is item #4 which refers to the funding for the Redevelopment Agency for fiscal year 2004 – 2005. How much money is being spent in what I call Gentrification schemes downtown? Where do these projects get their funding? Moving the fence around the planter in front of the Pacific Trading Company had staffing through the Redevelopment Agency but funding from the police department? I know how much was spent to construct the new railing, but what was the cost for the staffing time the RDA put into it? And the cost to install it? And to paint it?

What was the cumulative cost of fencing off the planter in front of New Leaf market?

What process was used and funds spent to install the change machine in front of Borders?

How much is spent for the Hosts program?

Moving the benches in front of Borders—how was this decided and how much did it cost? What was the role of the RDA in this regard?

Mike Rotkin: If Mr. Norse will submit a list of his questions, I will be glad to answer them.

Robert Norse: This is $10,000 for architectural design elements at Lighthouse Field. This includes restriping the parking lots there and other so-called "improvements". Mr. Hammack of Parks and Rec. said it was done under some broad plan and called this "part of the project". While additional bathrooms are great. Porto-potties are good too. A few of them anyway. I have no objection to the bathroom out at Lighthouse Field. We need more of them. What I am concerned about is people for whom their only shelter is a vehicle. These are the same people who Councilmember Emily Reilly chased away from Harvey West Park industrial area by putting up here no parking from 5AM to 7AM for street sweeping signs back in 2000. The City has deemed it necessary to put up no parking signs downtown between 12PM and 6AM for an empty vehicle, much less one who someone is sleeping in. These people have migrated over to the West side. I’ve heard repeated accounts of homeless people being harassed there or perceiving that they were being harassed at Lighthouse Field. And we are only talking about parking in the daytime. Finding a place of surcease where people can park without being harassed or where they can appear to be harassing the area neighbors. Were there any public hearings on this decision to restripe the parking lot and move the logs so campers cant park there? Are there any public documents that exist? Is there currently a public policy to not do business in e-mails so that the public has no access to those records? I went to Parks and Rec with activist Jhon Golder to try to find records on the restriping only to have Golder arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station on an ancient restraining order City Manager Dick Wilson got to punish Golder for making these kinds of inquiries.

Michael Tomasi speaks. "You put up little signs –No Campers Allowed –All these police officers come after this skinny little girl—this lady—she must weigh 115 lbs---this lady likes to call the police, she needs to take her meds. Shes not right in the head. So the police come down with guns in their hands and herds everyone together. Santa Cruz police lock and load m-16s in front of everyone. Just to show us who is boss.

We need to make it legal to sleep.

We need to make it legal for the entire world to smoke marijuana.

I bet every one of you here has smoked marijuana at some point in your life.

And its good for you.

Becky Johnson: I’ve been noticing a lot of changes at the Lighthouse Field parking lot.

The parks and rec have restriped the parking lots and moved the logs in order to make it illegal or impossible for campers to park. The funny thing is the state has a standard size for a parking space so you can’t really make it so a camper can’t park in a parking space, well you can’t LEGALLY make it so campers can’t park. I’m concerned about the people who live in their vehicles in Santa Cruz. People who are homeless because they can’t afford the housing here. We have been asking you for years to put in a homeless campground and carpark. Not as a permanent solution. Just as a stopgap measure to help people on the streets tonight. You are responsible for these people. They are your constituents. What is wrong with you people? You need to find it in your budget. You need to find it in your town. You need to find it in your hearts.

Item number 15: Earmarking funds for the Downtown Management Corporation

Robert Norse: The Hosts who operate out of the Downtown Information Center which homeless people call the Downtown Informant Center enforce sitting on 95% of the sidewalk and notes that 75% of the sidewalk is criminalized for performers. He reports the harassment of Jason Pascal under the "move-along" law for his tarot card reading.

Michael Tomassi: Michael complained of a "host with a walkie-talkie" who listened to everything he and his friend said. He chastised the council saying "you’ve got to quit informing on one another.

Becky Johnson: I wish you would vote "no" on this item and instead earmark this money for the general fund. I have several concerns about the Downtown Hosts. I’m concerned about privatization of public services. I feel that this is the wrong way to go. I would prefer the City stick to using public employees to provide City services as these jobs would have better working conditions, more legal protections for employees, and more oversite. The benefits are better and the wages are usually better. When you contract to a private corporation, you lose that control. I want to know if the employees of the Downtown Management Corporation’s workers are bound to be paid wages under the City’s Living Wage ordinance which mandates City workers be paid a living wage which is currently $12.71 an hour without benefits, or $11.71 for with them.

I’m concerned that the Hosts are enforcing a lot of trivial ordinances. Its illegal to sit on a sidewalk. Its illegal to ask for food after dark. It’s illegal to sit on that 8 inch concrete lip on the planter well around the trees downtown. That’s a $162 ticket. Think of the waste of police and host time. And for the person cited, its an agonizing experience. $162 for sitting on a planter lip! Isn’t that ridiculous? A man was arrested, handcuffed and taken to the police station for dropping a toothpick on the sidewalk….

Mayor Scott Kennedy interrupts: Ms. Johnson. Surely you are not saying the Hosts are citing people and arresting them! Do the hosts make arrests?

Becky Johnson: Hosts don’t issue citations or make arrests. They issue warnings to people and they call the police to make the citation. It’s my understanding that they enforce the exact same municipal code. That means that when a Host makes the call, you have to pay for two City workers to cite a kid for dropping a toothpick on the sidewalk.

Cynthia Matthews: It would be impossible to put this funding in the general fund. Funding for this comes out of an explicit assessment district.

Mayor Scott Kennedy: It would be illegal to move it into the general fund and then the host would have to report us for being arrested. (NO—IT’S NOT A TYPO—HE REALLY SAID THIS GIBBRISH)

Tim Fitzmaurice: You wouldn’t want knowledge and facts to get in the way of a good argument.

(The council all chuckles at Fitzmaurice’s joke)

Item # CSO Funding

Robert Norse: This item is about CSO funding, which are people who can cite and arrest people for dropping a toothpick on the sidewalk. I’m concerned there is no oversite for CSO’s. This $60, 000 amounts to overpolicing. If you have a bunch of police officers standing around, they are going to make work for themselves. Pam Bachtel tells me she is "not doing her job" if she is not writing citations.

When you have huge police budgets, they will find a way to spend it. We have seen this in Iraq. We have seen this in our huge military budget, but somehow we can’t see it when its in our own backyard. I’m especially concerned because on tonight’s agenda you will be slashing the social services budget and eliminating completely "La Familia"

Michael Tomassi: "Mr. Mayor, you are the belly of the beast. You tell the police department what to do."

Tomassi’s had made an earlier allegation of an incident at Lighthouse Field where guns were drawn on a small group of people. Becky Johnson had asked if the police document every instance where a police officer draws his weapon in the line of duty." Rotkin claimed he regularly reviews police records and no such instance had occurred at Lighthouse field like Tommassi had claimed.

Tommassi lifted his finger and pointed at Councilmember Mike Rotkin. "And if this man over here is calling me a liar, man, you talk to the police and they will tell you they went after them with their weapons drawn!"

Becky Johnson: Most of the comments I made on the last item apply to this item as well. We have too many petty ordinances which we are wasting public resources enforcing. "You know, I love the cops." The council released a collective scoff. "I do. If some guy is breaking into my house, I will not hesitate to call a cop. If the woman next door is getting beaten by her ex-boyfriend, I will run to call a cop, and I will be glad when they show up. Its tough work. And I really appreciate them doing it. Police should be enforcing the law against burglary, assault, rape and murder. These are real crimes.

What I am talking about are not real crimes. Not only are these ordinances an unneccesary cost to enforce, but I think they adversely affect the quality of life downtown. Downtown is the center of our community. It’s a place where we can freely assemble. You remember, peacably gather? Such a disproportionate amount of our dollars are spent on CSO’s and Hosts for policing the downtown are, which is basically private security guards for businesses paid at public expense.


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