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"No Loitering" & "Ban on Gatherings" in Public Downtown Parking Lots Update
by Robert Norse
Saturday Oct 13th, 2007 5:48 AM
Last Tuesday, City Council passed its First Reading of Vice-Mayor Coonerty's expansion of last year's "No Trespassing in Public Parking Garages and Lots" law. If given final passage on Tuesday October 23rd, the law will go into effect on November 22nd, making it illegal to linger in any of 9 square blocks downtown. It's already illegal to linger in 4 of those 9 square blocks. Waiting in or with your car or bike beyond 15 minutes will also become illegal. The citation will cost $124 or more.
A BAD LAW IS MADE WORSE

The last item on City Council's Tuesday agenda was the Mathews-Robinson-Coonerty "No Loitering in Parking Lots" law. The SCPD-initiated merchant-backed law would expand a previous "no loitering in the parking garages" law downtown.

Tne Council took about 45 minutes to eliminate rights folks have taken for granted in these public spaces for the last 45 years.

Though raising questions about profiling last Halloween in the Triple Fine zones, Councilmember Madrigal voted to expand police power to selectively enforce in all downtown parking lots. He cited "concerns" by parking lots workers (for which there was no documentation other than anecdotal testimony by two workers,trotted out by the Public Works head).

The only member of the Downtown Commission who testified was Sheila Coonerty. The actual Downtown Commission itself presented no report. Sheila Coonerty said she was watching the issue on televsion and had to get dressed, come down, and register her opposition to the law.

Last year she voted for the earlier "No Loitering in Garages" law that paved the way for this expansion, ignoring the fact that the main "crime" concerning cops, merchants, and workers was the presence of homeless people taking shelter in the garages overnight as well as the presence of "scary-looking people".

Sheila is the co-chair of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (which also didn't oppose the garages part of the law last year, never mentioning the "H" [homeless] word).

This year and last year it opposed making it illegal to use the surface lots for innocent non-parking activities like resting in your car, socializing, playing music, and/or giving out fliers. All these activities will become illegal on November 22nd unless Council takes a different direction on October 23rd.

Councilmember Rotkin--uncharacteristically -- opposed the law, suggesting that it was too sweeping and that the police stats supporting it were insufficient to justify the inclusion of so many lots. Porter expressed concerned the law would part of a trend banning loitering in other areas without achieving the desired result.

Shanna McCord of the Sentinel wrote a front-page story that sounded more like an editorial suggesting that everyone, including the law's supporters, agreed it would only move "crime problems" around.


SUPPORTERS' ARGUMENTS; OPPONENTS ABSENT

Police argued it was a "helpful tool" to be able to demand people leave the lots after 15 minutes (or immediately if they have no car or bike there) even if no real crime was taking place in order to "prevent" crime. They claimed it would not be selectively enforced and acknowledged it would also eliminate innocent behavior like sitting in your car reading, meditating, resting, or chatting.

Merchants from Keith Holtaway's Downtown Association stacked the meeting, insisting the new law would make Santa Cruz more "appealing" and "safer".

ACLU spokesman Don Zimmermann did not show; nor did Ken Cole of the Homeless Services Center or any other social service providers. Food Not Bomb activists (who will be banned from Lot #4) and drummers also did not put in a appearance.

Activists did not have the excuse this time that the matter was heard in the afternoon when it is harder for working people to attend. The new Public Assembly Ban in Parking Lots was on the evening agenda and came up at about 8:45 or 9 PM.

It is true Reilly cut speaking time short, allowing only two minutes per speaker.

The only police stats provided, in spite of a required (and ignored) six month review of the existing "no loitering in the garages" law, were arrests (not convictions) in six of the 19 parking lots. There were no comparative stats over time or elsewhere in the downtown to show any particular problem in the lots themselves.


DOWNTOWN SATURDAY PROTEST ANNOUNCED

Chuck Huddleston, a local resident, spoke eloquently of what Santa Cruz was losing through imposing this new law, criminalizing much innocent behavior. He subsequently co-hosted a Free Radio Santa Cruz show, inviting people to join him to protest this law by parking downtown on Pacific Ave. with older downscale vehicles to shame merchants supporting the law. (Hear the show at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb071011.mp3). He will be down on Pacific Avenue this morning (Saturday) and said he intends to regularly protest.

In the debate, Madrigal might have swayed Mayor Reilly if he'd supported Porter and Rotkin. In the afternoon session Rotkin seemed to have had that effect in the apple moth spraying injunction proposal. Rotkin's support for the injunction put Reilly on the hot seat as the deciding vote on the Council. Had Madrigal held firm against this expansion of police power, Reilly would have been placed in the same position.

Madrigal has not returned phone calls on this issue or responded to an invitation to publicly discuss the matter on the radio.

He proposed a meaningless compromise of another 6 month review (not a sunsetting)--without any standards or benchmarks. Mathews leaped at this opportunity and secured Madrigal's vote, supporting vague "scare" stories from two Public Works employees who spoke of "needles" and "feces". (How many needles and piles of crap have you seen in the parking lots?)

Many speakers had earlier come to Oral Communications at 7:30 PM to complain about racial and class profiling and protest the police/Council attack on Madrigal that happened two weeks before. Madrigal seemed to have forgotten this when he blandly moved forward to remove a huge chunk of public space from public use and implicitly allow the police extensive selective enforcement powers.

If the law passes its final reading in two weeks, many complaints and protests might be helpful in getting the Council to reverse this law six months down the road.

It's possible significant public resistance combined with court challenges might force Council to repeal the law if people are insistent. HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activists have discussed citizen arrests of tourists, "loiter"-in's in front of businesses, and other theatrical responses to Coonerty's latest escalation of the War ont he Poor downtown.

The broad nature of the law (necessary to secure it against constitutional challenge makes everyone into criminals and significantly reduces the right to privacy in one's car--all in the interests of "a safe and appealing downtown", a mantra much-repeated at City Council Tuesday night by merchants and police.


AVENUES FOR INFORMATION AND ACTION

For more information go to Ban on Public Assemblies in Public Parking Lots at City Council Next Tuesday at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/10/04/18451726.php

Or tune in to Bathrobespierre's Broadsides on Free Radio Santa Cruz with playback and discussion beginning 8:30 AM Sunday october 14th at 101.1 FM and http://www.freakradio.org, later to be archived at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb071014.mp3).

Madrigal and Reilly can be called to urge them to change their votes; Rotkin and Porter can be commended; Robinson, Mathews, and Coonerty are pretty hopeless. All can be reached at 420-5020.

Folks can also show their concern by supporting the Boycott Bigotry protest outside Coonerty's Bookshop Santa Cruz Sunday 10-14 at 2 PM. Suitable for wearing: "Not Yet Banned at the Bookshop Santa Cruz" stickers. For the shameful few: "Banned at the Bookshop" stickers will also be available.

There are 200 comments currently on the Sentinel website on this issue at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2007/October/11/local/stories/03local.htm