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Local ACLU Statement on the Parking Lot Panic Law
The Santa Cruz chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in one of its rare statements defending civil liberties locally issued the following statement at http://www.aclusantacruz.org/node/154.
Statement to the Santa Cruz City Council
Submitted by jenny h on Tue, 10/09/2007
PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE CITY ORDINANCE PERTAINING TO USE OF AND TRESPASSING UPON DOWNTOWN CITY PARKING LOTS AND GARAGES (CHAPTER 9.64)
October 9, 2006
The following statement represents the unanimous position of the Santa Cruz Chapter Board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. The Chapter represents more than 2,000 ACLU members.
Sixteen months ago the City Council adopted a new ordinance making it a crime for anyone to set foot in any city parking garage, or on surface parking lot #9, except for the purpose of parking or retrieving a motor vehicle or bicycle. Moreover, anyone spending more than 15 minutes for that purpose is also guilty of criminal trespass.
The Council moderated the ordinance quite considerably from the sweeping version originally proposed by the Public Works Department, responding in large measure to serious concerns raised about enacting a total prohibition against the exercise of civil liberties on every public surface parking lot in the city. Those concerns were expressed by the Downtown Commission, the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, many individual citizens, and, the ACLU.
The ACLU expressed no objection to applying the ordinance to the city’s four enclosed parking garages. At the same time, however, we urged the council to scale back the ordinance as to the surface parking lots in the absence of any persuasive objective data demonstrating(a) that there is a substantial threat to public safety on those lots, and (b) that there is a reasonable expectation that the ordinance, in fact, would significantly reduce criminal activity and improve public safety. It is particularly appropriate to hold the proponents of the trespass ordinance responsible for making that case because the activity it criminalizes – such as spending 16 minutes nursing a baby or reading a magazine in a car – is not in itself any threat to public safety. And the most serious public safety threats – such selling heroin, grand theft or vehicle burglary – are already specified as crimes subject to far more serious penalties than for parking lot trespass. In other words, exactly how will this ordinance deter crime? And how will the public know its real effect?
The Council, beyond scaling back the ordinance as adopted, answered those questions by directing that staff provide a report to the Council on the first six months of its operation as to the four enclosed public garages and surface lot #9. Surely such a “before and after” comparison of public safety threats would reveal a great deal about the efficacy of the ordinance, and, as well, to whether there is a cogent basis for extending it to any additional surface parking lots.
Regrettably, such a report has never been submitted. Moreover, no such objective information is contained in the current Agenda Report to the Council, nor was any such information presented to the Downtown Commission at any of its several meetings at which the ordinance was considered. We urge the Council to again direct staff to provide a report on the existing ordinance, and, in the meantime, to suspend action on the proposed extension of the ordinance pending that report and an opportunity for public comment on it.
We also call your attention to other troubling aspects of the current proposal:
The “Incidents at Downtown Parking Lots” table attached to the Agenda Report shows that the violent crimes specified, such as vehicle burglary and drug sales/possession, occur about twice as frequently on Lot #9, where the ordinance has been effect for over a year, than on the average of the five parking lots included in the table. How does that demonstrate improved public safety brought about by the existing trespass ordinance?
The same table purports to show 431 crimes (not counting the field interviews which are not crimes), but two-thirds (290) of those are not identified as to what the crimes are, or how many are categorized as serious felonies or misdemeanors.
No public safety data whatsoever are presented as to three-fourths of the public parking lots proposed for inclusion. How can this possibly meet even a minimal “rational basis” standard for adopting such a criminal trespass ordinance?
Much was made at the last Downtown Commission consideration of the proposed ordinance amendment of the importance of police officers making “point of contact” with potential criminals. That most often happens during routine police patrols or when police respond to 911 calls about criminal activity in a parking facility. Indeed, increased police patrols downtown are widely reported to have improved public safety. But the extent and frequency of those patrols, as well as the ability to respond to 911 calls, are determined by how police department budget priorities are established by the Council. The public understands that the city’s scarce revenue resources face serious competing public service demands. That, however, cannot validate an expansion of the existing parking trespass ordinance which does nothing to increase police resources.
Another Agenda Report attachment cites parking lot ordinances of three of California’s 478 cities. One of those, for San Jose, on its face has no application to any public parking lot and, therefore, is irrelevant as to any constitutional concerns. And as for the other two, no background information at all is included as to the circumstances that gave rise to the ordinance, to what extent, if at all, they are enforced, or what has been their effect on public safety.
The local ACLU websites are http://www.aclusantacruz.org/santacruzlocal and http://www.aclusantacruz.org/santacruzlegal .