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LOCAL Announcement :: Civil & Human Rights

Parking Lot Prisons Law Hits Downtown Commission 8:30 AM Thursday January 26

The Downtown Commission will be reviewing the proposed "10 minute limit" on "lingering" in public parking structures at its 8:30 AM meeting Thursday January 26th in City Council Chambers.

The agenda can be accessed at:

www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us/pw/dc/2006/agenda/012606a.pdf
The Downtown Commission is the usual road to repressive laws that City Council has used to pass the Downtown Ordinances.

Item #3 is a review of the Downtown Ordinances--these are the laws that set up "forbidden zones" for sitting, peaceful sparechanging, and performing, putting most of the sidewalks in business districts off-limits. In essence they give a blank check to police officers like Pam Bachtel, whose raging ticket books are legendary.

Normally I believe this would have been a largely meaningless Downtown Commission activity, since City Council has shown no concern with police abuses under the ordinances. (Witness their "spy on!" response to the local SCPD spygate scandal)

Ironically the two main complaints at the public meetings in late June 2002 held by Councilmembers Reilly and Porter that proceeded the rush passage of the tightened laws were "police harassment" and "selective enforcement", to City Council's embarrassment.

The discussion is important this time because at least one Downtown Ordinance, a section of the City's draconian anti-panhandling law, is undergoing forced revision because of a federal court requirement.

This is a consequence of the Maurer case reviewed in the Good Times at

www.gtweekly.com/news/story.2005-02-09.7681779864 and

www.gtweekly.com/news/story.2005-05-04.5448117288

The federal court has told City Attorney to Barisone to change the law or he'll be ordered to do so (the law prohibiting panhandling with "profane" language). Maurer had a "fuck the police" sign in his hat after repeated harassment from Bachtel.

So the issue will have to come back to City Council, probably twice, for an ordinance amendment (unless Rotkin insists it's an "emergency" as he did to change the juggling prohibition when Tom Noddy invited jugglers to come to town in protest in the summer of 2003. In this case the change can be passed in one hearing).

The point is, should people be interested, they can speak on the broader issue of police abuses under the downtown ordinances.

However, on the downside, note that at its last meeting the Downtown Commission's "examination" of the Downtown Ordinances was, according to its November agenda, just a forum for presenting another anti-homeless law--the new "no loitering in parking garages" law, which is now the next item (item #4)on the Downtown Commission's agenda.

----------------------------

Item #4 is what I call the "Parking Lot Prisons" proposal that surfaced in January in a slanted Sentinel article by Shana McCord. The scare story, which reads like a bigoted press release from the Downtown Association and the Redevelopment Agency, has no quotes from homeless advocates, homeless services, etc. and no police stats.

www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/January/07/local/stories/01local.htm

I wrote the following letter about the issue last month:

Santa Cruz City Council
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Dear Mayor Mathews & Council:

Item Number 19 on the January 10th agenda is bad in and of itself.  You are rushing it forward prior to Downtown Commission examination on January 26th.  This haste simply mirrors the “put it on the afternoon agenda when no one is looking¨ process used last month for La Bahia, the Coast Santa Cruz Hotel, and, of course, the notorious Downtown Ordinances which have already cost the city time and money in its losing lawsuit with John Maurer (also on your afternoon agenda).

All this is being done without any clear police stats that show any real problem.  We are asked to take Chief  Skerry’s views ¨?on faith?.  After the disgraceful performance of the SCPD in our own ¨?spying on the public? scandal, we deserve better.

This is being  proposerd without any prior public meetings with homeless people and homeless service providers.

We´ve already seen the spectacle of homeless people being ticketed for "trespass" for huddling under the Borders eves in the rain. Now the police are being given the power to run off the public after ten minutes.

So when a homeless vet takes refuge in a parking garage, the SCPD and their friendly helpers,the Hosts, will give them ten minutes to leave (to non-existent emergency shelter) in winter weather?  How low are we going to bend in Santa Cruz to gentrification schemes,  hatched in dark places and set loose on the population?

The staff report is mistaken in supposing there will be no additional financial impact. Clearly there will need  to be more money for  increased police enforcement.   This will be particularly true if the public asserts its right to use publicly-funded space for more than ten (!)minutes or to show solidarity with the poor.   You may remember the cost of enforcing the Mathews-Rotkin “no sitting? law in 1994.

The police department is a poor judge of public policy if it acts without meaningful public input.

It is also little short of outrageous to use staff  “fears? as justification for

Why was this report written on December 14th and only released several days before the Council meeting´s first reading of the law?   Where is a copy of the ordinance for the public to read?  (Only the staff report is on line).

Was Sentinel watchpoodle Shanna McCord intentionally misinformed that this issue was coming up in February, as she writes in her February 7th article?

Why aren´t you waiting at least until the Downtown Commission investigates the matter on January 26th?  As it now stands, the Council´s second and final reading of the ordinance (whatever it says), ONE DAY LATER.

It seems clear again the Police Chief and City Manager have the inside track on ramming what is pretty clearly special-interest legislation through the Council in record time at an afternoon session.

Clearly citizens need to speak out against this gentrification-socialcleansing ordinance, deafened as you seem to be by the highpaid highhanded staff.   And if this is passed, we need to resist it.

Please save us all time and trouble by

(1) requiring real statistics and real problems rather than vague SCPD and staff fears, 

(2) holding real public hearings that involve consultation with the people affected (i.e. the homeless, staff, merchants), 

(3) after doing so,allow the Downtown Commission to investigate the matter,and finally

(4) not slipping the matter onto an afternoon agenda after misleading the public through the Sentinel when it will be coming up for discussion.

May the public make you responsible, if you refuse to be so yourselves.

Sincerely,

Robert Norse
rnorse3 (at) hotmail.com
423-4833

Surprisingly the item was postponed for a month. It needs to be permanently dumped, with apologies. Since that's unlikely, folks need to prepare to find ways to peacefully resist it.

In the ancient words of the otherwise dismissable Barry Goldwater:

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Call City Council at 420-5020 to encourage them to dump this latest exercise in extending police power (and surveillance).

And/or show up at the Downtown Commission on Thursday morning and make your views known.
 
 


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Comments

Loitering laws are largely unconstitutional

Loitering laws were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because the court ruled, you can't arrest someone for simply being in one place too long. The ONLY loitering laws that remain are when a suspect loiters in an area in connection with some other real crime, such as someone casing a bank during the planning of a robbery, or a person who is a lookout while someone else is committing a burglary.

This law is a loitering law in disguise. It is unconstitutional.

Apparently this law was triggered by homeless people who, by definition, have no warm, dry home to go to, went into some of the public garages to keep dry. Since public garages are public spaces, the police couldn't find a way to arrest them.

The Sentinel article full of quotes from downtown merchants, cited litter, car burglaries, public urination, and "feeling afraid" as the reasons for the proposed "10 minute rule" for public parking garages and lots.

Only the police and city staff (our employees!!!) will be allowed in parking garages for longer than 10 minutes.

I'm also concerned with the tresspassing charge. Tresspassing is a misdemeanor which means arrest, booking, and jail. It means poor defendants will be entitled to public defenders and jury trials.

Yet, surprisingly, the ordinance is touted as costing virtually nothing, and perhaps even SAVING money by reducing litter.

Public space is for public use. Santa Cruz has not decided to quit enforcing its littering, burglary, assault, and public urination enforcement. The sky is NOT falling.

This is about the bigotry and the prejudice of some small downtown merchants (including Neal, Ryan, and Sheila Coonerty) who don't want to see homeless people near their stores much as southern bigots in the Jim Crow south didn't want black people near their stores because they scare away the white customers.

The message we should get from all of this (besides NO WAY are you going to take away our use of public space!!!) is that OMG there are people who are wet and freezing who have, out of desparation, sought to shelter themselves from the rain in a public parking garage! Let's find a way for them to have better choices--such as in a low-cost public campground.
 

Critics Win Delay in Downtown Commission

PUBLIC WORKS STRONGMAN MARK FERRELL PUSHES LAW

This repressive measure is explicitly directed against gatherings of people to "help the staff" cleaning and working in parking structures (whoever they may be).

It originally appeared on the January 10th City Council afternoon agenda (where few folks could have discussed it).

After a number of letters angrily demanding more time, City Council delayed action until after the Downtown Commission's January 26th meeting.

Some of this discussion can be found at santacruz.indymedia.org/newswire/display/19303/index.php .

A particular group of people is being targeted (giving the police "more effective tools"). This was explicitly admitted by the law's main backer and apparent source, Matt Ferrell, head of the Dept. of Public Works at the 1-26 Downtown Commission.

Ferrell also acknowledged moving undesireable groups was the purpose of the new change-making machine installed in the place of a bench at Elm and Pacific without a public hearing or any input from a public commission.

Elm and Pacific was called "punk corner" by some because of its being a gathering place for young and homeless people.

COMMISSION IGNORES ONGOING REPRESSION BY DOWNTOWN ORDINANCES

The Downtown Commission has taken no interest in examining this and other "social cleansing" measures downtown (such as the removal of benches, making the seating area near the Pacific Trading Company unsittable, etc.).

Nor did it have any interest in reviewing police behavior generally against street performers, youth, racial minorities, and homeless people under the Downtown Ordinances.

Instead under the Downtown Ordinance Review, they simply rubberstamped a selective anecdotal report given by Jim Brown, a Downtown Commission member who said he spoke with police, merchants, and "a few musicians" but no civil rights groups, homeless service agencies, or homeless people.

On Sunday January 29th, celloist Brandon, who often plays in front of the New Leaf and the Gap, was led by two police officers in handcuffs. He had two unpaid warrants on tickets he felt were illegitimately given him (one for having an "open display case" "blocking" the sidewalk which he used to solicit donations, another for sitting in a forbidden area on the riverbank).

DOWNTOWN COMMISSION DELAYS DECISION

After hearing public comment from activists Bernard Klitzner and Bob Patton of the Human Rights Organization, local resident Terry Thomas, and HUFF activist Robert Norse, the Downtown Commission paused.

Though presented with a resolution supported by Joe of Atlantic Fantasyworld (a Downtown Commission member) to forward the bad law to City Council with a few "concerns", some members began raising concerns. A second resolution was proposed to forward it "without recommendations".

Ferrell admitted he'd not determined that City Attorney Barisone had certified the measure "constitutional" (which he will, of course).

There were no specific statistics on actual crime in the parking structures. Bob Patton pointed out that it took more than 10 minutes for his 90-year old grandfather to get into and out of his car and that similar problems were involved for dealing with younger children.

Bernard Klitzner pointed out that homeless people sheltering themselves from the rain would be criminalized for standing there more than 10 minutes.

The Commission decided to ask for more stats from the SCPD and perhaps other agencies and return the proposed law to the next meeting.

DANGEROUS PRECEDENTS DEMAND MORE PUBLIC INFORMATION

Particularly ominous was Matt Ferrell's comment that the "Ten Minute" law might apply to Food Not Bombs ability to hold its 4 p.m. meals next to the Farmer's Market on Wednesday, possibly requiring them to "get a permit".

In past years, attempts to require permits for such political/charitable ventures have prompted massive public protest, mass arrests, and a farcical "steal the food" circus by the police (Police arrests at the Town Clock Winter 1988-9, An injunction against Food Not Bombs Spring 1993, Downtown Association driving The Potters Hand meal from Pacific Avenue 2004).

In order to effectively stop this new law (and expose another police-power expansion scheme), we need a public records act request uncovering all e-mail traffic between Public Works, City Council members, the public, special interest groups like the Downtown Association, the homeless-hostile Redevelopment Agency, and police agencies.

Rico Thunder through the northern California (not the local) ACLU got such a request partially answered while Sherry Conable's Public Records Act request was apparently turned down. Out of town muscle won the day.

Those who oppose this law (and want to change other oppressive laws) needs to expose the dark and tangled background and history of these laws. Such requests can uncover who lobbies for them, how they proceed in the darkness until they're finally "sprung" on the public at afternoon sessions of City Council where they are quickly rubberstamped.

Selections from the 1-26 Downtown Commission meeting's discussion of a ten-minute limit for using public parking areas and a discussion of the issue were played on the January 29th edition of the Free Radio Santa Cruz Show, Bathrobespierre's Broadsides at www.santacruzcopwatch.org/robert/brb060129.mp3
 

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