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Open Letter to Mike Rotkin

A group of homeless people are considering forming a survival camping collective somewhere in Santa Cruz. City Council Candidate Mike Rotkin has long supported the Sleeping Ban and the Camping Ban despite a desparate lack of shelter preferring to spend city funds to criminalize homeless people. Writer, Becky Johnson challenges his record in this open letter.

October 10, 2002

to: Candidate for Santa Cruz City Council, Mike Rotkin

re: need to camp

Dear Mike Rotkin,

As a councilmember in 1979, you voted for a version of MC 6.36.010, better known as the Camping Ban.
While the version you voted for was an improvement on the earlier version passed in 1978, it still contained section A which outlaws the act of sleeping between the hours of 11PM and 8:30AM anywhere out of doors or in a vehicle anywhere in the City limits of Santa Cruz. We call this section "The Sleeping Ban."

Section B of this ordinance, which you voted for, outlaws the use of a blanket "between the hours of 11PM and 8:30AM." This section has an exception for using a blanket within a vehicle, but outlaws it out of doors. We call this section "The Blanket Ban."

In December of 1995, you, along with Councilmember Scott Kennedy, closed the Coral St. Open Air Shelter which had been the home for up to 225 people at a time. You banished all of those people from public sight, to live under the bridges, in the bushes, and in abandoned buildings instead. People died from that as a direct result.

In 1996, as Mayor you defied a 7 1/2 month vigil outside of the City Council chambers to change the Sleeping, Blanket, and Camping Bans. Yet you would not change the law, you would not grant amnesty for past tickets, you would not open a campground or a carpark somewhere where homeless people could sleep legally. Instead you instructed the police to ticket and arrest homeless people for illegal sleeping and camping.

You told us that to repeal the Sleeping Ban, "10 million homeless people will move here tommorrow."
You told us that "We spend more money per capita on homeless people than any other city our size."
You told us that "Good people are working quietly behind the scenes on good things." Oops. That was Tim Fitzmaurice.
You told us that "We can't have people sleeping anywhere and everywhere in our public places."
When we asked you for a place somewhere for homeless people to sleep, to keep warm with blankets, and to camp, you were silent. You acted though. You arranged for City Attorney John Barisone to secure an injunction against the City Hall Sleepers Protest where you named 41 "defendants" most of them homeless people, members of our own community. You told us that all these lawyers working for days on end, appearing in court representing the City of Santa Cruz cost us the citizens of Santa Cruz "nothing." Do you think you are so very clever, or do you think that we are stupid?

We must provide for all of our people. You claim you are a leader. Then lead us.

There is no "them" and "us." There is only us. And among us, we have homeless citizens who are in desparate need of shelter from the elements. Shall I recite the homeless death toll for the past few years? Since you, as a former councilmember and multi-time mayor were unable to provide sufficient affordable housing for all for all your years at the helm of our city's government, and since you had claimed that we spend "$10 million per year on homelessness" yet were never able to provide enough housing vouchers to house everyone. Since you claim that the sleeping and blanket bans are necessary because if we didn't "the police would just take homeless people to the county line and order them to leave, and that would be worse" You claim that since the National Guard Armory Shelter "is never full" you can rationalize supporting the Sleeping and Blanket Bans.

Since you were last in office, the Eichhorn Decision was published. This legal precedent means that a homeless person who has no other choice than to sleep or to camp can use the necessity defense to avoid a conviction for sleeping or camping. Mr. Rotkin, never since 1979 when you first were elected to the council, nor since, has Santa Cruz had sufficient legal shelter for all of our homeless citizens. Tonight, there will be 48 places for 1,273 homeless people. That's shelter space for 3.7% of our need.

Mike Rotkin, when will you allow those who are without shelter to shelter themselves?

The 1,273 homeless people of Santa Cruz need a little more than a couple spaces on the floor at night four months of the year.
They don't have any place they can live safely and legally. They exist.

They need somewhere they can park their cars and sleep in them. They need somewhere where they can set up a tent and camp. They cannot just "go away" if you write a lot of tickets for "illegal camping." They need to camp.

It is in the vaccuum left by the government, the churches, and society that this situation occurs. It is in the shadow of rents raised sky-high by unchecked greed. It is in a world where wages have not kept pace with the cost of living. It is found where zoning boards and planning commissions only approve of new housing starts for the wealthy. None of these conditions are the fault of homeless people themselves. Indeed, you, Mr. Rotkin, bear more blame than most. From 1979 to 1998 homelessness in Santa Cruz relative to our population more than tripled.

Until such time, as there is sufficient decent and affordable housing, so that no one need be left out of doors, we must lift restrictions on camping and sleeping to prevent hypothermia, disease, alienation, isolation, and to rid ourselves of the foul and unworthy policy of the criminalization of homelessness.

Unfortunately, you continue to support a policy of criminalizing homeless people through the use of the Sleeping and Camping Bans, to use police to ticket and arrest homeless people, and to continue your fear-mongoring campaign to scare good people senseless with you predictions of hordes of homeless people descending on Santa Cruz.

If you are able to change your ways and support either (1) suspension of enforcement of the Sleeping, Blanket, and Camping Bans (2) Opening up a homeless campground or carpark or (3) providing motel vouchers for every homeless person who can't or won't sleep on the floor of the armory then I will consider voting for you again. Until then, I regret that I cannot support your bid for City Council and must instead warn voters to not re-elect you.


--- Becky Johnson of HUFF
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom
309 Cedar St. PMB 14B
Santa Cruz, Ca. 95060
(831) 423-HUFF
becky_johnson (at)

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Response to open letter

Boy, I bet that Mike's really agonizing over this one. Hm, let's see, if I go along "HUFF", (Hopelessly Unemployed and Frequently Flatulent), I get maybe 3% of the vote. If I ignore them or reiterate my sensible and ethical position of this nonsense I win. Gosh, I wonder what he will do.

Correction to Response

My apologies. The "HUFF" I meant to refer to are the "Hopelessly Unenlightened and Frequently Foolish", not the aforementioned "HUFFIES".


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