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Parking Lot Panic at City Council Tuesday May 9th
by Robert Norse
Monday May 8th, 2006 9:42 PM
The Fifteen Minute Trespass Law has its final reading as item #17 on the afternoon agenda at Santa Cruz City Council Tuesday May 9th. A protest with food and frolicking will precede the Council rubberstamp at 2:30 PM. Item #17 on the City Council agenda will come up sometime after 3 PM (anywhere from half an hour to several hours).
If the law passes second reading in unaltered form (as is likely), it will go into effect 30 days later.

So on or around June 8th, your right to read a book, listen to a CD, rest quietly, wait for a relative, or meditate in your own legally parked, legally owned vehicle in a city parking lot will cease after fifteen minutes.

If you don't have a vehicle or bicycle which you are parking, it will become illegal for you to enter a parking lot at all unless you go directly through, have a permit to be there, or are a city employee on city business. Disabled? No exceptions. Ducking out of the rain? No exceptions. Helping an elderly friend to the car with her grociers? Sorry.

Trying to put a flyer on a car window? Hmm, only if you are in one of the posted "free speech" areas. Doesn't this sounds hauntingly familiar--like President Bush's special "protest pens" keeping political opponents many blocks away from his calvalcade in special "Free Speech areas"?

The American Friend Service Committee's Street Spirit editor Terry Messman, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, the [Santa Cruz] Human Rights Organization, the [Santa Cruz] Peace and Freedom Party, the [Santa Cruz] Green Party, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty have all written to City Council opposing this law.

It represents a radical reversal of the traditional right to privacy in your vehicle and the right to freedom of association in previously public parking lots and garages. Many square blocks of public space are now being "closed off" for "security" concerns.

It is actually an anti-homeless law dressed up in fashionable security rhetoric. Homeless people use parking lots for shelter from rain and wind. Santa Cruz has emergency shelter tonight for 40 of the City's 1500-2000 homeless people. Homeless "crimes" (of sleeping, camping, urinating, defecating) seem to be the biggest concern here.

Even though it's ALREADY ILLEGAL to camp or sleep in parking lots, parking lot workers and their bosses want to increase the fear factor (though not necessarily increasing any funding for police enforcement) by making any presence without a vehicle illegal.

There has been no record given of actual arrests made for actual crimes in the parking lots and/or garages in spite of three separate Downtown Commission hearings and one City Council hearing. Instead a vague record of police "calls for service" has been compiled as well as an anecdotal listing of parking lot worker complaints.

Even those records, which only cover 4 parking lots and the 4 parking garages, do not indicate any more than 3 incidents per month per garage. Incidents such as "camping", "suspicious person", "vandalism". No cases in the last year have been presented of rape. There have been several assaults, but no comparative record of how many more assaults there have been downtown generally.

No attention has been given to a real discussion of real solutions like opening bathrooms or portapotties at night, providing better lighting, involving the community in a discussion about these issues.

Even solutions which I don't necessarily favor have more surface rationality like more police patrols, better surveillance, and an on-site attendant--and theyaren't being seriously discussed. Just a "got no car?, get out" sign and a "do your business in 15 minutes or else" sign for those with vehicles.


SMILING AS WE STRIKE BACK

The kind of protests I suggest are summed up at:
http://www.indybay.org/news/2006/05/1821107.php

A second "training session" for parking lot overflow activity in front of the downtown businesses may be in the offing for the weeks ahead.

Also under consideration: a scavenger hunt in the parking lots, a lawsuit with the help of Palo Alto attorneys, and a sleep-out to reclaim public space and apply the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' "Jones" decision from L.A. here in Santa Cruz. (Arresting homeless people for sleeping when there is no shelter is a violation of the 8th Amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment).

Want to help? Give a call to HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom at 831-423-4833.

You can also phone City Council at 831-420-5020 or e-mail them at citycouncil [at] ci.santa-cruz.ca.us .

For more info on the law check out:
http://www.indybay.org/news/2006/04/1817776.php

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Tulin Ozdigger (posted by Robert Norse)
Monday May 8th, 2006 9:58 PM
March 6, 2006


Dear Council Member:

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) is concerned that Santa Cruz is considering passing yet another law, the city garage and parking lot trespass law, that targets homeless persons.  Targeting homeless people through this law, in addition to your anti-camping, anti-sitting, and anti-panhandling laws, will only make the homelessness situation worse in Santa Cruz and pose legal problems for the City.  We encourage the City to take more constructive steps to find solutions to homelessness, rather than criminalizing those city residents who are forced to live and sleep outside.

Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people experience homelessness in the City of Santa Cruz, on any given night.  Thirty-three percent of them are children.  Yet, the Homeless Service Center reports that only 120 emergency shelter spaces are provided in the winter and only 39 spaces in the spring through fall.  Santa Cruz clearly lacks the necessary shelter space to accommodate the need, forcing many people to sleep outside each night.  In communities where affordable housing or shelter space is inadequate, ordinances that prohibit the public performance of activities necessary for life, such as sleeping, may violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  Enforcement of the City’s anti-camping law clearly poses legal problems already.  The City would be unwise to incur additional potential legal liabilities by passing the proposed restrictions on City garages and parking lots. 

The proposed law is unconstitutionally vague as it does not provide enough notice to people of prohibited conduct nor sufficient guidelines to law enforcement to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.  Further, the proposed law violates substantive due process as punishing the act of staying in a city garage or parking lot for more than 10 minutes could easily lead to punishment for innocent conduct.

Enforcement of the proposed ordinance and the other ordinances not only violates the constitutional rights of homeless people in the City, but costs far more than constructive measures aimed at solving homelessness. In fact, in a nine-city survey of shelter, supportive housing, and jail costs, jail costs were on average two to three times the cost of supportive housing. See Lewin Group, “Costs of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine Cities: Chart Book,” (2004) available at http://documents.csh.org/documents/ke/csh_lewin2004.PDF. Laws that penalize the public performance of life-sustaining activities, such as those in Santa Cruz, do nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness.

Instead, such penalties only create additional barriers for homeless individuals by imposing fines upon them that they cannot pay or creating criminal records for behavior that is not criminal in nature. The consequences of these penalties make it difficult for people to obtain housing and employment.

NLCHP agrees that an alternative to living and sleeping in public spaces should be found.  We would be happy to serve as a resource for you in finding constructive alternatives to the City’s proposed ordinance.  For instance, instead of enacting and enforcing laws that criminalize behavior traditionally associated with homelessness, Santa Cruz could work to find long-term solutions that will help homeless persons move permanently off of the streets and into self-sufficiency.

In the Pottinger v. City of Miami decision, a federal court held that Miami could not arrest homeless persons for conducting activities necessary for life in public when no shelter space was available.  Following this court decision, the city took more constructive steps by building more shelter space. 

Such initiatives, in turn, spurred business community involvement in finding creative ways to help fund services for homeless people.  For example, Miami-Dade County instituted a half-penny restaurant tax, which it uses to fund its Housing Assistance Center and other affordable housing initiatives.

Finding more constructive alternatives to criminalization not only avoids legal problems that may lead to litigation, but actually works toward solving the problem of homelessness, a claim that cannot be made about measures such as those in Santa Cruz. 

For example, the City of Philadelphia has reduced the number of people forced to live on the streets by seeking a more productive approach to homelessness.  With the input of local advocates, the city created a police protocol that promotes outreach and referrals to housing and services, instead of arrests and incarceration.  The police protocol provides that police cannot arrest homeless people for sitting or lying on sidewalks if no shelter space is available.  Further, the City has dedicated more resources to services, shelter, and housing for homeless persons.  As a result of such efforts, from 1998 to 2003, the number of homeless people living on the streets in downtown Philadelphia went from 800 to 200.

These cities are just a couple of the communities that have faced homelessness issues similar to those affecting Santa Cruz.  Their goals have been to develop novel remedies that address the root causes of homelessness, a much more productive alternative to laws that criminalize homelessness.  NLCHP would be happy to put you in touch with contacts in these cities who could provide you with more information on how to develop similar initiatives in your city.

In closing, we ask that you redirect your efforts toward working with the community to create permanent solutions to homelessness.  We are including one of our reports that includes other model programs.  Please do not hesitate to contact me at 202-638-2535 with any questions or if you would like further information.


Sincerely,


Tulin Ozdeger
Civil Rights Staff Attorney


by Mike Rotkin & Ryan Connerty (posted by Norse)
Monday May 8th, 2006 10:25 PM
May 1, 2006

Tulin Ozdeger
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1400
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Ms Ozdeger:

We are writing in respone to your factually incorrect and patronizing letter of April 13, 2006 regarding the passage of an ordinance limiting the use of parking garages. There were so many inaccuracies in your letter that it is difficult to know where to begin.

First, the proposed ordinance is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on the use of public property that is not a traditional or quasi public forum. It deals with a problem that City of Santa Cruz (City) staff has been facing with people using our downtown garages for illegal uses -- such as public urination and defecation, assault, vandalism, and drug dealing--all of which are difficult to prosecute.

The majority of these problems are not created by homeless people, rather by university students and others using the garages as an after-hours and pre-party spot and other people interested in engaging in criminal activity. The ordinance is modeled on other university-community ordinances, specifically Berkeley and Santa Barbara.

There were over 1,000 police calls to these garages last year. The safety of our city workers and downtown employees and visitors had become so serious that our city's labor union and women's groups asked us to take this step.

Second, in your letter you offer repeatedly to help our city "create permanent solutions to homelessness" and "alternatives." If you had taken the time to actually call or research our community, you would know that there is no other city our size in the United States that provides more complete and innovative services to homeless people. Consider the following:

+++ We have recently completed construction of a $5.5 million Homeless Family Shelter--a public-private effort to offer holistic service to help homeless families move out of poverty. For more information, please visit http://www.scshelter.org.

+++ The new family shelter augments several non-profit homeless shelters that have been supported for more than 30 years in our community.

+++ The City also spends $75,000 each year to provide emergency winter shelter and bus service for homeless people in our community.

+++ The City employs a Homeless Resource Officer on our City Police staff to assist our homeless community and provide access to social services.

+++ Our city also has a downtown social worker to connect people in need with local programs.

+++ The city spends $1.5 million a year on social service programs, including funds for low-income housing, health and dental care, food banks, women's crisis support, homeless counseling and childcare. This is a remarkable sum of money, especially considering that in California, counties are responsible for social service outlays. The City has no obigation to spend a dime yet allocates this money from the General Fund. It is more money than is spent on road repair, and we have the potholes to prove it.

+++ The City is spending a large portion of the next several years' allocation of Federal Community Development Block Grant funding on improving the homeless services day center (specifically showers) and providing for the potential of a year-round homeless shelter.

+++ The City just approved the construction of a new supportive living facility for individuals with psychiatric disabilities.

+++ The City is in the process of developing an 11-unit complex for the permanent housing of homeless individuals.

Finally, instead of sending us a booklet of best practices from around the country that are either: (1) already in existence in Santa Cruz (outreach efforts, EITC tax preparation programs, and transitional and mental health housing projects); or (2) programs that are for cities that have at least 20 times the population,s ize,and budgets,
we would recommend that you come to Santa Cruz to learn about how a town with a population of 50,000 deals with a very difficult issue in a very difficult budgetary time. In fact, it would be refreshing if all of the policymakers in Washington, D.C., would take the time to leave the Beltway before engaging in destructive and costly efforts.

Perhaps your training at Arnold and Porter on behalf of corporate interests taught you only how to approach these issues int he most aggressive manner possible, but please be assured that you are not serving your organization or the homeless people in our community well with your actions.

Sincerely,

Mike Rotkin, Councilmember
Ryan Coonerty, Councilmember

cc: Maria Foscarinis, Pamela Malestar, Roderick De Arment, Margaret Pfeiffer, William Breakey, Bruce Casino, Jeannette Austin, Deborah Dennis, Terri Montague, Jack Rothstein, Vassilliki Tsaganos, Judith Winston, Oakwood Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Butler Family Fund, Fannie Mae, Kellogg Foundation



by Robert Norse
Monday May 8th, 2006 10:31 PM
"Ozdeger" is the proper spelling of Tulin Ozdeger's name.
by Bob Patton (posted by Robert Norse)
Monday May 8th, 2006 10:33 PM
Dear Council members,

What is going on here? Are you in agreement with this scathing, and hostile attack on Tulin Ozdeger, attorney with the NLCHP, in reply to her letter expressing constructional concerns over the proposed Lots and Garages law? Is there any civility remaining within this city council? Stop with the juvenile insults, get down to business and work with those of use that just might have some workable solutions.

As to the claims of the letter, I notice even after decrying Tulin’s inaccuracies they mention none. They make no mention of her prime concern, lack of emergency shelter combined with anti-homeless laws. Instead they go into their smoke and mirrors routine. They are holding up little scraps of temporary shelter for only a few who qualify to show off to those good persons who might further fund projects.

Behind all this, and mostly out of site of the well heeled donors, they aggressively seek to increase the use of force to solve problems instead of reaching out to those who might have real solutions to “ending homelessness in 10 years”. This attack on Tulin could backfire if those contacted, (cc), don’t buy the Rotkin/Connerty claims. Than where would the city be? Its one thing to talk the talk of ending homelessness but hard to walk the walk if your wearing combat boots. This hypocrisy needs to be exposed.

The letter is misleading as to the numbers from the police reports. It was reported that around one percent of the calls for police service, city wide, in the year of 2005 were for the lots and garages. Many of those calls were officer generated by police officers who report drive through visits that were not the result of any citizen calling. The largest number of citations issued was for illegal camping. That means homeless. These numbers do not support the need for this kind of law.

Bob Patton

by Becky Johnson (posted by Robert Norse)
Monday May 8th, 2006 10:46 PM
To: Tulin Ozdeger,
Attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1400
Washington, DC  20005
 
 
Dear Tulin Ozdeger,
 
I was sent a copy of this letter (attached) written by the two city council members who are most vociferously advocating for the upcoming 15-Minutes, Then Jail law for downtown parking lots and garages. A second reading of that ordinance is scheduled for their afternoon session of City Council this upcoming May 9th.  Here is my response to their letter.
 
Councilmembers Mike Rotkin and Ryan Coonerty call an ordinance "reasonable" that will criminalize hundreds of acts of innocent behavior, which have been performed since the horse and buggy days in our City, by making anyone who remains in a parking lot or structure longer than 15 minutes a criminal, charged with tresspassing.
 
If the ticket goes unpaid, a warrant for that persons arrest will be issued.
 
What was the problem which instigated this ordinance in the first place? HUFF activists have read correspondance with the City, gone to two Downtown Commission hearings on this issue, attended two city council meetings, and have read the staff reports. A few HUFF members have met with Mayor Cynthia Mathews, Parking "Czar" Matt Farrell, and a few other councilmembers.
 
Aside from the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports of mounting piles of garbage, feces, urine, hypodermic needles, and empty alcohol bottles which maintenance workers claimed they had to contend with, a bigger problem was that when the police were called, they could not make the people who were there, leave.
 
The Sentinel reports that there were problems with car burglaries, vandalism, drug-dealing, and assaults especially on women. 

However, the police had no problem arresting anyone for those crimes, as many laws against these are in our codebooks. It was only for loitering that the police could find no law on our books. 

This year has been unseasonably wet with an unusually long rainy period.  A group of about 8 homeless people had come to use the parking garages as dry places to get out of the rain, especially late at night.  Of course, if the police came upon them sleeping or even covered up with a blanket but awake, our law allows the police to cite them. In fact, in 2005, 63 tickets were issued for camping, the single largest category of "crime."
 
It's hardly surprising there is a problem with urination and feces in the lots and garages. The Downtown area of Santa Cruz has a chronic lack of public bathroom facilities, and no 24-hour bathroom in the downtown area at all. The 15-minute law will hardly end this problem. Opening up another bathroom is the only solution that makes sense.
 
Much data was gathered and submitted to the Downtown Commission by the Santa Cruz Police Department and by the staff logs of the Parks and Rec Dept.  The "1,000 police calls to these garages last year" which Rotkin and Coonerty refer to, are from these reports.
 
Vice-Chief Kevin Vogel reported that the City of Santa Cruz recorded 76,000 calls for service in 2005. That means slightly over 1% of the calls for service involved parking lots or garages. Since this covers 24 surface parking lots and 4 huge parking structures these statistics are far from alarming.
 
Secondly, Vogel explained that some regular number of those calls were self-generated documented by police drive-throughs whether anyone had called about a problem or whether they found anything wrong at all. And others only used the lots as a convenient location reference for crimes that occurred nearby but not actually in the lots or garages.
 
Of the actual citations issued, the biggest category (63) was for camping--presumably by homeless people.
 
The City's labor union and the women's groups did not originate a call for this ordinance. That came from city staff and the SCPD. 

These groups were recruited to register concern in order to justify this ordinance, and fed misleading statistics about a supposed "crime wave" requiring response. Downtown merchants, including Ryan Coonerty, have recorded their support for this ordinance, Coonerty in particular saying that it would benefit the concerns raised by his customers at Bookshop Santa Cruz.
 
Sadly, there is a crisis in cases of forcible rape for the City of Santa Cruz, but none of the 6 rapes which occurred downtown in the two-year time period studied, occurred in a garage or parking lot.
 
While some women's groups like Mediawatch have supported the ordinance in the spirit of "if it prevents one woman from being raped," but past Chair of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, Linda Lemaster, said "There is zero relationship between the passage of this ordinance and women's safety."
 
Rotkin's statement "no other city our size in the United States that provides more complete and innovative services to homeless people" is the latest version of his claim which used to be that no city our size spent as much money on homeless services. 

But when former Mayor Celia Scott researched that, she found that while some cities spend nothing on homeless services, our city spends $4 per capita for the homeless, Santa Monica $16, and San Francisco $54. While not the worst, we were far from the best. HUFF would say our homeless services are comparable to those of other cities our size.
 
Due to major budget cuts to non-profits, beds for indigent clients offered by the County for homeless people seeking help have dropped from 34 to 25 countywide. 
see: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/May/07/local/stories/01local.htm
 
HUFF agrees that Santa Cruz has many social service programs which, though underfunded and over-utilized, provide a crucial life-saving service for many homeless people. Most of these came into existence through protest, hunger strikes, and patient lobbying. (e.g. HUFF activists went to jail to create the city- sponsered "Free Meal" which is now served daily to homeless people.) 

Santa Cruz has arrested people for serving free food to homeless people.  Many many dedicated citizens groups and philanthropists contributed towards these programs.  For Rotkin and Coonerty to use these as an excuse for enforcing the Sleeping Ban against the remaining homeless people----or to say that its okay to force homeless people out of a dry place and into the rain because we have a free shower across town is absurd.
 
Some commentary on the programs mentioned:
 
$5.5 million Homeless Family Shelter -- Open for almost a year, this program serves 28 families, with only clean and sober parents given shelter. There is a fairly rigorous entrance criteria, and the program is not yet filled with "acceptable" families while less acceptable families are still living on the streets.
 
While the City does help fund the River Street Shelter (30 beds), Page Smith Community House(40 beds), and the ISSP program(15 beds currently, expanded in winter), with a homeless population measured at between 1500 and 2000 in the City limits, the unmet gap is still huge.
 
Most of the ISSP program is federally funded, but the City does pay $75,000 to fill in a funding gap.
 
The Homeless Resource Officer (who has already been de-funded) certainly didn't HELP homeless people. He marked them for special harassment.
 
Likewise, the downtown social worker is as likely to call a cop on a homeless person as find any social services for them. With only 2 slots open for homeless alcohol or drug rehab available, there is little the social worker can do short of having the person placed on a 72-hr psychiatric hold or arrested.
 
I'm glad to hear that the showers at the Homeless Services Center are going to be fixed. Of the three, heavily used showers, only one has been working lately.
 
As for programs which have been "approved" of or for which the City is "providing for the potential" of or is "in the process of developing" are clearly still not on the table in any real sense.
 
Rotkin and Coonerty hope this dog and pony show about how all of our fine social services will make it all right to take away everyone's right to exist in a parking lot or structure for more than 15 minutes.
 
Please note that Rotkin and Coonerty don't share how much money it costs us to pay police to write out citations to homeless people, appear in court to testify, and for lawyers and judges to adjudicate these cases, and for the jails to hold the people picked up on warrants when they can't pay the fines.
 
Since the police budget is 33% of the general fund, chances are that amount is ten times the money spent helping poor people. HUFF, despite repeated requests, has been unable to find out what the total costs of enforcement are for the City.

The National Coalition on Homelessness has reported that each citation issued to a homeless person ends up costing the City about $1000. With about a ticket a day issued for camping, that would be $365,000 per year JUST to enforce the camping ban. 

We also have laws which prohibit sitting, begging, lying down, having a dog downtown, hacky-sacking, amateur bubble-blowing, feeding the birds breadcrumbs, leaning against a tree, or staying dry under the eaves of downtown businesses. Matt Farrell absurdly claims the 15-minute law will not cost tax-payers any increased costs!
 
This 15-minute law will not prevent a rape, a car burglary, or stop a drug deal from going down. It will not make us safer.  It WILL enable the police to drive homeless people out of a dry place and into the rain. And this is the true purpose of this ordinance.
 
I hope this letter helps to put into perspective the issues raised by Councilmembers Mike Rotkin and Ryan Coonerty, who are both huge supporters of the Sleeping Ban and this new 15-minute law.
 
 
---  Becky Johnson
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom,
past member of the Citizens Committee for the Homeless Board of Directors
10 year writer for Street Spirit, an AFSC publication
by Becky Johnson
Tuesday May 9th, 2006 6:45 AM
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When the 15-minute law is passed, after 16 minutes, you will no longer be able to.....