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Erasible Chalk on the Sidewalk is a Crime--for Some.

Letter from "criminal chalker" Becky Johnson to Mayor Emily Reilly and commentary by Robert Norse.
December 21, 2002

Dear Mayor Emily Reilly and the Santa Cruz City Council,

As a teacher I am well aware of the positive benefits of the use of sidewalk chalk. The medium is spontaneous, creative, colorful, fun, promotes family activities which
utilize the safe place of the sidewalk in front of each child's home for creative and recreational activities.

Hopscotch is a good cardi-vascular activity which builds endurance, balance, mental and physical coordination, co-operative non-violent activities, and plain good fun.

Please check out the following website which shows one community's efforts to host a community building activity using sidewalk chalk.

As you know (since you have authorized the City Attorney to prosecute me spending tens of thousands of dollars of public funds to do so) chalk-writing has been declared illegal in Santa Cruz.

Besides first amendment issues, I think the loss of the activity of using sidewalk chalk to be a detriment to our city. I urge you to speak out at council that this is a misuse of public funds, a wrong-headed policy, and that sidewalk chalking has always been legal (note: the text of MC 9.20.010 does not mention sidewalk chalk as illegal)
and no legislative change to make chalk illegal has happened since 1964 when the ordinance was enacted.

I thank-you for your consideration.

--- Becky Johnson


Becky Johnson went to court on December 19th and trial has been set for two "criminal chalking" tickets for Valentine's Day February 14th 10 AM in Commissioner Joseph's court.

Both counts are for "defacing the sidewalk" (MC 9.20.010). On one she was originally arrested for "vandalism" on complaint of Mia Duquette, a Parks and Recreation employee, who Johnson claims assaulted her after doubleparking her vehicle and trying to stop her from chalking. That chalking incident happened along the gutter of the street, not on the sidewalk.

Sgt. Lunnen then advised Duquette to charge Johnson with "vandalism" (a more serious misdemeanor) because she couldn't be changed with "defacing the sidewalk" since the chalking wasn't on the sidewalk. Lunnen, along with Officers Hilliard and Bines, then colluded to arrest Johnson, take her to jail in handcuffs, and make a special call to the judge to raise the bail from 0 to $1000.

When Johnson reached charge the original "vandalism" charge had disappeared and been replaced with the spurious "defacing the sidewalk" charge, which Joseph refused to dismiss, though the police report made it quite clear that all chalking was done on the street.

This is clearly a case of sustained harassment for the political protest going on at Cooper and Pacific against the Downtown Ordinances--harassment noted and criticized by the Green Party, candidates Thomas Leavitt and Steve Argue, and the Green Press.

Joseph previously found Johnson guilty several months ago on a similar charge, finding that "no permanent damage" need be done. He dismissed First Amendment concerns and listened instead to a prosecution team that included City Attorney John Barisone, his wife, several police officers, Redevelopment Agency official and former merchant Julie Hende, and others. That case is on appeal.

Charges against Nathanial Kennedy, one of the first to be arrested this year for sidewalk chalking downtown, have largely been dropped, though he was given the "Dominican Hospital" psychward treatment.

In November and December no further citations were issued, that I now of, and chalking regularly goes on at "Merrie Mondays" (Cooper and Pacific 3:30 PM) and at other events like the Vet's Hall Thanksgiving and Xmas feedings.

Becky Johnson is still seeking legal counsel and can be reached at becky_johnson (at) . If anyone else has been hassled for chalking or has any helpful information, please post it on this sight or e-mail me (rnorse (at) or her.


P.S. Reilly has not replied to Johnson's letter. No sidewalk chalkers at the weekly peace protests have been cited or bothered by police.

No City Council member has made any statement opposing selective enforcement, nor has the issue been placed on a City Council agenda, though a resolution against Selective Enforcement downtown was passed by the Citizens Police Review Board on December 9th.

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