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I wouldn't touch this law with a ten foot pole!

On Tuesday night, the Santa Cruz City Council will pass on a second reading an ordinance which will greatly restrict the ability of street musicians, political tables, and street performers in Santa Cruz solving a problem that doesn't exist and giving police vastly more powers to cite and arrest. Does Ashcroft have some special influence with this Council? Commenting on item #28, the last item on the council agenda, Becky Johnson of HUFF writes this letter to Mayor Emily Reilly and the City Council.
From: Becky Johnson
Santa Cruz, Ca. 95060
(831)429-8529 ph/fax
becky_johnson (at) sbcglobal.net


to: Mayor Reilly and the Santa Cruz City Council
re: Tuesday, Jan 14, 2003 Move-along ordinance and the 10 foot rule

Dear Mayor Emily Reilly and the members of the Santa Cruz City Council,

On Tuesday, the last item on your evening agenda is the 2nd reading of an
ordinance which will greatly limit free expression in Santa Cruz. Although
you see it as a softening of an even more oppressive and limiting ordinance
you passed on July 23rd, 2002--- the truth is, this too is a law too far,
an intrusion into the free activities of the citizens of Santa Cruz who wish to
share information amongst themselves freely, and without the threat of a
$162 ticket hanging over their heads and chilling their free speech.

The "move-along" provision you are considering is patently unconstitutional.
Loitering laws were thrown out by the Supreme Court in the early '80's.
Perhaps City Attorney John Barisone has correctly guessed that in these
Ashcroftian times, the Supreme Court will start upholding these anti-free speech
ordinances. Do you really want to go on record as the City that undid
protections of first amendment rights?

A "move along" provision is the same thing as a loitering law. The court ruled
that you cannot arrest someone for doing nothing or for doing nothing illegal.
If a street musician is playing music legally for 59 minutes, it does NOT
suddenly become illegal in 60 minutes. This provision is not practical for
political tables which usually set up for 2 or 3 hours at a time.

Laws forbidding sitting down 14 feet from everywhere are extremely restrictive.
And its not an $18 parking ticket we are talking about. Do you remember back
in July when you asked City Attorney John Barisone how much the fine would
be for breaking the sitting law and he said "I don't know--I'll have to check and
get back to you." Can you hear a bold faced lie when its coming from your
own city attorney?

John Barisone knows full well that a person cited under all of these infraction
codes ends up paying $162 for the non-criminal behavior of sitting, lying down
even for a few moments as Richard Parsons is currently going to trial for---
prosecuted by John Barisone!

Playing hacky-sack, frisbee, asking someone for a cigarette, leaning against
a building, playing a flute in a doorway of a closed business, amateur bubble-blowing,
playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, playing music 9 feet from a doorway,
asking for a dime while seated on a bench ARE NOT CRIMES!!! These are the
peaceful, free, and chosen activities of the citizens of Santa Cruz. You have
no business ---and no compelling need--- to outlaw these activities.

Furthermore, you have plenty of remedies for those whose behavior is truly
causing a problem. Dealing drugs is illegal. Blocking a sidewalk is illegal.
Tresspassing in a doorway is illegal. Unreasonable noise is illegal.
And if that is not enough, any person can file for a TRO if any legal
activitity is prolonged, unreasonable, or interferes with a business.
I know this --for Tim Fitzmaurice was instrumental in filing just such a
TRO against me --for stealing pens!!-- when I lobbied at his office to put the Sleeping Ban
on the agenda while he was mayor. 5 months later and thousands of
dollars in legal costs on both sides, the Judge threw the suit out of court
for lacking merit. But, it proves that any person does have that option for REAL abuses.

We need to go back to the ordinances in 1994. They have their problems.
I don't like them and think they are unneccessary and have the problem
that they are by their very nature selectively enforced against the poor.

But you obviously don't have the political will to repeal those restrictive laws.
You must admit that these new laws are a mistake. They do not solve
any problem that exists. As Utah Phillips recently said about the proposed
and recently enacted downtown ordinances, "What good are these
laws anyway? The good people don't break them and the bad
people won't follow them." He also assured us that all of these laws are illegal
and he has promised to forward to us a stack of decisions protecting street musicians
and public assembly to dump of John Barisone's desk.

Lastly, as a homeless advocate for HUFF, Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom,
I must protest your passage of such extremely restrictive ordinances which have
banned begging from an estimated 90% of Santa Cruz's sidewalks. Are you
attempting to solve poverty by fiat? Banish from sight those who are not
benefitting from the bounty of Santa Cruz?

This is despicable. What is going to happen when a homeless person gets
cited for asking for spare change in a forbidden location? He is issued a $162 citation.
He is not allowed a public defender or a jury trial. He must show up at a court hearing
that may or may not fit his schedule---often requiring him to stay for weeks in the
area or risk arrest for a failure to appear. Once in court, he will most likely be found
guilty. Since he can't pay the $162 fine (whatever made you think that he could?)
he will be "given" the "humane" "option" of "community service" for which he must
PAY $35 for the "privilege" or working for free. This is not slave labor. It is worse.

Where is he going to get the $35 to register for Community Service? He must
beg for it! Otherwise, he is going to jail for sure. And that is a huge expense for
our city and county budgets. Excuse me, but are you just swimming in money
that you can afford to blow it by jailing a homeless man for asking for a dime
and not being able to afford the $35 fee?

In California it costs $40,000 to keep one person in jail for one year.
Why don't you just put him up at the Hilton instead!

On Tuesday night, if you have any sense, if you have any courage, if you
have any conscience----Just say no. No to the move along. No to the entire ordinance.


---Becky Johnson





 
 


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Comments

Better Ways Than Bad Laws

I sent the following letter to Mayor Reilly this morning:

Emily,

Surely there are better ways of encouraging merchants and reassuring folks anxious about the real problems downtown than curtailing civil liberties and scapegoating innocent people and innocent behavior. In these times we must be particularly cautious before giving police more power.
Rather than these kneejerk “politically reassuring” bad laws, wouldn’t it be better to develope positive reassurance for business downtown (commercial rent control, pushing for a Downtown Plaza by experimental street closings, encouraging more regular street performing as a stimulus to business). Last June, I gave you data on how politicians, homeless advocates and merchants worked together in Olympia, Washington to find better solutions than new anti-homeless laws.
Don’t you want to encourage the long-term process that began with the successful Voluntary Street Performers Guidelines? The VSPG are not to be discarded because some anxious merchants prefer a more privatized mall, a new law for every season, and a more conservative milileu generally. Don’t they need to shoulder their share by using
existing laws against disturbing the peace, blocking the sidewalk, assault, theft, abusive panhandling that have existed for years to deal with real problems?
Sure, they have to make citizen’s arrests for real bad behavior or take the time to walk up to a performer and ask respectuful for movement under the VSPG--but are they even trying to use that process? Do you have solid stats here? Last summer the SCAN Steering Committee in protesting the rush, told you that without a good process there can't be good laws. Hasn't the last six months proved them right?
If the merchants are not even trying to use the VSPG and the Hosts are not distributing them, doesn’t your responsibility of Mayor of all the people require you to put a hold on further criminalization measures, which are increasingly viewed as counter-productive merchant “special interest” laws that don’t address real problems
anyway. The only alternative you give opponents is to protest or go to court, and it doesn’t bring the downtown community any closer.
The Downtown Commission has spent nearly six months trying to deal with one tiny “unintended consequence” of the laws--the discouraging overregulation of street performers. Instead of addressing the many other concerns you brought to it, it’s had to
essentially waste time in trying to patch up laws that simply were a mistake. After all that, their minority recommendations are sidelined with no real discussion. Isn’t it time to acknowledge that a better way needs to be found to (a) reassure merchants, and (b)address real problems downtown?
You began that process well with the MacPherson Center meetings of your Downtown Problems Committee. You saw that it was a difficult process, but there’s a difficult series of problems downtown, by the very nature of the many folks there. We were all talking. Then you removed any incentive for further discussion by passing these
draconian laws in those 4 meetings in 15 days. This was not well-considered.
Excluding one group to please another under the cover of “behavior” ordinances when the behavior is fundamentally innocent (sitting, peaceful sparechanging, performing, tabling) is not a good way to go. Instead there is will and energy to proceed via the
Downtown Commission and the Street Performers group--provided you return the incentive for these groups to work out their problems by holding back on the final Xmas dessert that the merchants are seeking --the move-along ordinance and the expanded cordan sanitaire for tabling and performing.
When you ran for office, you were supporting David Silva’s Sleeping Ban Repeal Initaitive, expanded public restroom faciliities, and a progressive agenda. What happened? It’s never too late to return to listen to the voices of need and compassion. We need you
to lead on this issue. It’s a lonely role and you may ultimately be in a minority position. You would still be doing a great service. Someone needs to cut through political gestures and speak candidly about realities, even if it doesn’t please some conservative staff, police officials and anxious merchants.
In Santa Monica, progressive politicians are in a lonely position too as they fight laws that criminalize feeding the homeless. That struggle may shortly appear here. There are 1000-2000 homeless people outside tonight with 160 spaces, in an Armory that may
be closed when Bush moves into Iraq.
Meanwhile, your laws are making life more difficult for poor people downtown and driving street performers away or into hostile confrontation. Performers who were never militant before are becoming so. Please consider these issues; postpone all further criminalization; give your own process a chance to work.
Don’t buy the Rotkin-Kennedy line that “leaving it up to the police” is some kind of solution. Don’t wait for “things to die down.” Once the laws are in the hands of the police, they will be used; they have been used. Once the performers are gone, they will
not return.
We are seeing the consequences of such a “power to the police” policy nationally and internationally. These are times when we need to be standing together to stop a disastrous war and deal with a disaster of a governor. Thanks for your time. Call me if you want to talk further about this.

Robert Norse
 

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