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Council Kills Public Space in the Parking Lots
It will now be illegal to hang out (i.e. trespass) in any of the city's 20 downtown public parking lots. This amounts to at least 5 square blocks of previously accessible public space. If you are parking or retrieving a car or bike, you will have 15 minutes to do so, but it will be illegal to sit in and stay near your car (for more than 15 minutes). There is no requirement that police warn you before ticketing you.
Parking Lot Panic passed in its new expanded form by a 5-1 vote (Porter voted no, but said nothing) at the end of a long afternoon session. Every public speaker spoke against the law, but it was a done deaL.
Tacked on the end of the afternoon agenda at a time uncertain, several homeless people and supporters spoke against it. There was no staff report Why should they bother? The staff had no supportive stats and didn't need any
Julia Shattuck's Downtown Commission to its shame passed this radical reversal of the presumption of innocence in 5 full square blocks of public space downtown on to City Council. They used Joe Montera's excuse "our job is to pass it on for city council discussion"--when they knew it was a done deal. Their job, of course, was to decide if it was a law that solved problems or created more problems than it solved (their previous decision a year ago).
I gave most of the following speech, more or less:
Merchant Pressure Trumps Common Sense: Moving Along the RiffRaff
Speech to Santa Cruz Community and City Council by Robert Norse 10-23-07
Here we are again. Last year the Downtown Commission, the CPVAW and even this Council—voted this same law down. Why? Too broad. Too sweeping. No organized facts to justify so fundamental a change. CPVAW Chair Greensite voted against the law because the police presented NO FACTS just anecdotes.
Last year 16 people spoke against this law, including three organizations (ACLU, HUFF, and the Cabrillo College Democrats). And four spoke in favor. One of those 4 Sheila Coonerty left her house at night two weeks ago to speak against the law. Last year Mayor Reilly herself not only voted against including the lots; she voted against including Parking Lot #9, the homeless parking lot.
What has changed? More pressure from the same determined Downtown Association spearheaded by Keith Holtaway. But no new facts. Anecdotal tales from two parking lot employees trotted out by the bureaucrats pushing this law from Public Works: but no new facts. The same chorus of unsubstantiated claims of a public safety threat in the lots. But no facts. Sgt. Flippo and Lt. Escalante tell us again this law would be a useful tool for the police. So would a no-loitering on the sidewalks law. But again no new facts.
Last year you said no. You did include ONE lot--Parking Lot #9 on Elm St. That's the homeless lot, of course. The place where people were least likely to complain because they are most powerless. It was there you banned public gatherings—a place there were once memorial benches to sit on under a shady tree.
This is the lot facing the regular homeless meal at the Elm St. Church. For the last year, police have been able to experiment with parole violation stops, warnings. They, regularly park a police car across the street from the meal surveilling the seedy. And, of course, making it illegal for them to eat their meal in the parking lot, as many of them used to do. Instead, they're all crammed on the sidewalk, strung along the walk between the church and the Cafe Pergolesi—and, of course, it's illegal for them to sit down, because they are within 10' of a building. Another of your “health and safety” ordinances.
It's strange though. Police have no stats for this lot to show whether the law worked, no before the law and after the law figures. In this one lot the homeless people were the laboratory rats. We can see what effect the law had, before and after. Yet-how strange. The police didn't bother to give us the results. You required this review last year when you passed the “15 minutes and get moving” law for garages. The D.C. Asked for repeatedly over its last three meetings. Still no facts.
The few grudging stats the police finally gave do show one thing. Lot #9 has the MOST police activity of any of the lots. Is that because of the new law? Can we expect the same heightened level of police activity in the 19 other lots where they'll hammer up the “No Trespassing” signs a month from now? Perhaps people, ordinary people, not protesters or advocates...ordinary residents and tourists don't find it welcoming to be told to keep walking. They don't like to be told to leave their cars and move to the cafes—throw your money in here please as you go.
Perhaps they won't find it “warm and inviting” or “safe and appealing” to be warned to leave traditionally public spaces that have been open since they were children and before. Actually. Warnings are no longer required. Just $100+ tickets. Or selective enforcement.
This began as a net to drive away the homeless from the parking garages. The council was too cheap and too bigoted to deal with real emergency shelter issues, easier to blame the homeless. Put more simply: some of Ryan Coonerty's Bookshop Santa Cruz customers and workers didn't like seeing them there.
Now this law does give the police “more tools” to harass the poor. But then they are also charged with harassing everyone. They can stop and question you. They can order you to move on. They can knock on your window and tell you to stop doing your homework and move to a cafe. If your van is your home, they can force you out of it after 15 minutes, 30 minutes if you're disabled.
Disabled HUFF members have asked that you not burden them with this law.
What's different form last year? More naked political power from the right. But no new facts. Merchants and staff want to privatize the lots to runoff the riffraff. But no new facts. Even the Sentinel and Councilmember Rotkin, who hasn't voted against an expansion of local police power in two decades, say this will simply drive problems elsewhere.
Last year no, this year the Council says yes. I asked Mayor Reilly a week ago, what changed her mind. She smiled at me and said “let's give it a chance—let's wait and see”. This smug non-answer shows either cowardice or contempt. If there are no new facts, we don't need a new law. Just the courage to require those fearful of folks in public spaces to find more sensible ways to deal with real problems.
Her interview is archived at http://www.huffsantacruz.org at the 10-18 show.
The Council had no response to any of the concerns I raised. Coonerty raised again a red herring again: he cited my extrapolated statistic of several crimes against the person in all of the parking lots put together (a maximum average of 2 a month). Without letting giving any comparative crime figure for elsewhere in the city, elsewhere downtown, etc.
This leads me to believe Coonerty's response was intellectually dishonest as well as expressing a self-interested narrow-minded merchant mentality dressed up in lawyerly civil libertarian clothing.
Rotkin was absent. Madrigal gave excuses as to why he hadn't even received much less answered my phone calls ("try my e-mail"). Reilly made incredulous faces when I reminded her she'd not only voted against including more lots last time, but also against including lot #9. (She had: read the minutes of the 5-9-06 meeting for confirmation).
Missing were the ACLU, Homeless Services, Disabled Groups, students, youth, Food Not Bombs, and all kinds of other folks who needed to stand up and be counted. Though many were probably accurately of the mind the resistance was futile.
The ordinance goes into effect in thirty days--on November 23rd. But it probably won't be enforced until next year. The water temperature will gradually be raised so the lobster doesn't jump out of the stew pot.
Disabled activists have suggested a lawsuit (lawyers, step up!). Please contact HUFF if police, hosts, CSOs, or private vigilantes are demanding you leave a parking lot or garage or not linger in one.
Please contact HUFF (at 423-4833) if you'd like to work on creative protests in the months ahead against this law (a "sleep and loiter in" on Pacific Avenue"park-in", ticketing tourists for staying more than 15 minutes (patrolling with a stopwatch), or other merry machinations.
For background: see Mayor to Back Public Assembly Ban in Parking Lots; http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/10/18/18454618.php