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LOCAL Review :: Government & Elections

A Letter to Mayor Mathews

Homeless activists from a number of groups responded to Mayor Mathews first (and last) full Council meeting of her term with the following letter, which was e-mailed to her Friday December 30th. The Mayor's willingness to answer questions and open records is particularly significant given today's exposure (in the Sentinel) of illegitimate undercover SCPD surveillance of the Last Night festivities.
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom
309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

December 29, 2005

Mayor Cynthia Mathews
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA

Dear Mayor Mathews

We have some concerns about your conduct of the December13th City Council meeting and how you intend to treat the public in the coming year.

You repeatedly cautioned one member of the audience (Michael Tomasi) to make his comments "brief". Much as you may dislike Tomasi's style or content, such warnings constitute a kind of selective pressure which is inappropriate and, we believe, if repeated, violate the Brown Act. We would like your assurance that this kind of discriminatory badgering will not be repeated.

In your enthusiasm to finish the agenda, you failed to announce public comment on each item, as is required by the Brown Act. At one point Councilmember Rotkin and a member of the audience had to remind you of the public's right to speak (on the Office of Compassionate Use item). The public should not have to risk being found "disruptive" in order to assure their right to speak. Can we be assured that you will take the time to do this?

Past Mayors have made it a practice of advising the audience and the viewing public at home what each item was about as it came up. You did not. What will your practice be here?

As Mayor you schedule the agenda. For the first time in memory, the one December Council meeting was limited to an afternoon session. We presume this was your decision. This put pressure on the public, requiring them to wait through the afternoon session, and then rush their comments.

Afternoon sessions are difficult for many working members of the public to attend or watch. For those homeless people who need to use the emergency Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program, both afternoon and evening sessions are not accessible--because of the early-entrance requirements, particularly in the winter.

Many of those members of the community who were hardy and patient enough to wait three hours for Oral Communications--which you declined to schedule at a time certain--were union members with pressing concerns. Was your reduction of Oral Communications speaking time and its tortuous scheduling a punitive response to the "sick out" or negotiation difficulties? The extraordinarily reduced time allowed each person to speak (two minutes instead of three)--given the small number of speakers (9) gave the impression you were going out of your way to hear as little as possible.

This new 2-minute restriction on Oral Communications also was applied to public comment on other items.

This reduction in public comment time was most glaring since the usual 30 minute public comment time was reduced (for the first time in memory) to 20 minutes--2 minutes for each of the 9 speakers. You did allow one favored speaker the option of speaking five minutes (on the non-controversial business-friendly topic of Santa's elves)--but he only took 3-4 minutes.

We also have a few further questions.

What is your procedure for scheduling individual meetings with the public?

What public meetings will you be having with members of the public in your official capacity as Mayor? We are making this request in light of the state Sunshine Act passed in 2004. We would also like to know your policy about revealing what lobbyists you have met with. Finally, are your mayoral/city council e-mails accessible to the public or are you having them routed to your private or home computer and claiming a privacy privilege?

We realize that this was your first full meeting as Mayor officially. Yet you've been on the Council for ten years now and were Mayor for a full-year back in 1997. You're quite familiar with procedures. Hence, we think it's fair to put these questions to you.

Every Mayor should begin with a chance to voluntarily show respect for the public and follow the law. We're hoping you will not disappoint us.


Bob Patton, John Thielking
Human Rights Organization

Linda Lemaster
Housing NOW ! in Santa Cruz

Coral Brune, Becky Johnson, Robert Norse, Thomas Leavitt

Valerie Christy, Michael Pentecost
SAFE (Society for Artistic Freedom &
Expression/Streetperformers Against Foolish Enforcement)

cc: Shanna McCord, Santa Cruz Sentinel; Terry Franke; First Amendment Coalition

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The following text was added to the letter and distributed at the January 24th Santa Cruz City Council meeting. Mathews has still not responded to any of the questions raised in the letter.

Mayor Mathews : Let the Public Speak at City Council

At the January 10th City Council meeting, Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews again cut Oral Communications time to 2 minutes per speaker instead of allowing the usual 3 minutes, for which some members of the public had specifically prepared. The Board of Supervisors allows all members of the public who choose to speak for three minutes (though the overflow may have to wait until the end of the meeting).
Instead of extending time to accommodate the unprecedented public concern with her police department's unconstitutional surveillance activities, Mathews interrupted and castigated a principal speaker--Rico Thunder. Though it was she that was disrupting the public process, Mathews--the unofficial "minutes" of the meeting now imply it was Thunder who was "disrupting"the meeting. Past mayors have used an expansive and capricious definition of "disruption" to threaten, silence, exclude, arrest, and even prosecute dissenting speakers.
Civil rights advocate Robert Norse goes to criminal trial 8:30 AM Tuesday February 21st for "disruption" and "resisting arrest" (because he stood at the microphone waiting for his two minutes of speaking time). He faces a possible 1 1/2 years in jail and $1500 fine if convicted.
In March, he will be taking City Council to federal trial in San Jose for a pattern of repression, seeking damages and an injunction. Contact him at 831-423-4833 to join the lawsuit.
For updates see:
An earlier incident:
On January 10th Mathews ignored a unanimous motion passed by the Council allowing three final speakers to talk, cutting off homeless vehicle dweller Michael Tomasi without explanation or apology. Her statement to Tomasi that he had spoken the meeting before was irrelevant, since the Brown Act provides that every meeting begins anew; also the Council had specifically authorized Tomasi to speak. As the letter below shows, Mathews has specifically discriminated against Tomasi in the past.
Mathews was sent the following letter after similar repressive action at the December 13th City Council meeting. She has so far (1-24) made no response. Her office phone is 831-423-5026.

[text of letter from HUFF, HRO, Housing Now! in Santa Cruz, & SAFE follows in the flier]


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