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Mayor Coonerty's New Rules Ban Public Comment on Half of City Council Afternoon Agenda
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 11:35 AM
On becoming Santa Cruz Mayor last November, Ryan Coonerty laid down a new set of procedures at City Council requiring members of the Public to get his permission before talking on "Consent Agenda" subjects. The afternoon Consent agenda makes up more than half of what City Council acts on. Hence this new ruling removes Public Comment on the majority of Council actions. This is the deepest cut in Public Comment since since Mayor Rotkin sharply cut back the Public Speaking time in a bd to silence critics.
THE CONSENT AGENDA AND WHAT IT'S ABOUT

City Council's twice-a-month meetings have afternoon and evening sessions.

By far the most agenda items and subjects typically happen at the 3 PM session during the Consent Agenda.

This is a collection of items ranging from 6 to 30 separate items, which make up the nuts and bolts of city business. The items are regarded as "non-controversial" by City Manager Dick Wilson's staff and by Mayor Coonerty. However they usually involve hundreds of thousands of dollars and involve rubber-stamping decisions made by Wilson's staff.

Traditionally, members of the public could require the Council remove an item for comment by the public. Such comment was usually limited to 3 minutes.

In 2005, then-Mayor Rotkin further limited comment on the entire Consent agenda to 5 minutes. So, if you wanted to talk on two items, you could only talk 3 minutes on one and then 2 on the next one and were banned from speaking on any other items. I was arrested for "disrupting a Council meeting" when I came up and stood at the microphone waiting for my time to speak on the forbidden third item as I'd already spoken for five minutes on the previous two items. (Charges were dropped 16 months later)


COONERTY'S NEW GAG RULE

Coonerty's new rules, as explained by the Deputy City Clerk yesterday (and by Rotkin and Coonerty at the last Council meeting) are as follows: If you want to talk about an item on the Consent Agenda, you have a 2-minute period to explain to the Council why they should allow you to do so. However, during this time, according to Coonerty, you cannot talk about the "substance" of the item, until given permission to do so if the Council chooses to remove it from the Consent Agenda and allow a separate discussion on it.

So you are in the strange position of trying to persuade the Council that they should let you talk about the item, without discussing the details of what the item is actually about.

Coonerty and Rotkin have explained this procedure is being used to speed up the process, save staff time, and save the city money. It also saves the Council the necessity of hearing what the public says.


VIOLATING THE BROWN ACT

Coonerty's new rules also violate the Brown Act, the Public Meetings Act, which guarantees the public the right to attend meetings, speak on items, and have Council members conduct their discussions openly.

Government code 54954.3. (a) reads quite clearly:

"Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body..."


FIRST AMENDMENT WATCHDOG GROUP WEIGHS IN

The California First Amendment Coalition, a San Francisco-based attorney watchdog group at
http://www.cfac.org/Lawyers/Denyingpubliccomment.php gives the following advice under the heading "Denying public comment" :

"Q: Can a City Council deny public comment on an agendized item? ...
A: Government Code Section 54954.3(a), requires public bodies to allow public comments not only on agenda items but on any item of interest subject to the body's jurisdiction. The only exception to the public testimony requirement is where a committee comprised solely of members of the legislative body has previously considered the item at a public meeting in which all members of the public were afforded the opportunity to comment on the item before or during the committee's consideration of it, so long as the item has not substantially changed since the committee's hearing. Gov't Code § 54954.3(a)."


MAYOR COONERTY'S RATIONALE

In a memo to city staff and public which City Council staffer Jane read to me yesterday on the phone, Mayor Coonerty claimed his new rules were "following the practices of the Board of Supervisors and the City of Watsonville, citizens will have two minutes to request that council members pull one or more items for debate. If an item is pulled, the citizens will have two [additional] minutes to speak the item."

Coonerty has described his new gag rule and the shortening of Oral Communications as being done "in order to expand access to the political process and increase efficiency for community members, councilmembers and city staff."

He further rhapsodizes "If every city council meeting is shortened by 2 hours, the equivalent of giving city staff an additional work week to serve the city. Shortened city council meetings allow more working people to attend the meetings and serve on city council. Shortened city council meetings allow the media to more effectively cover council actions and decisions. More voices and less time."


THE REALITY BEHIND COONERTY'S RHETORIC

In fact, the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors (according to one of the clerks there) ALWAYS allows public comment on consent agenda items (i.e. it is not subject to a vote by the Board). If a member of the public wants an item pulled off, it is pulled off, renumbered, and placed at the end of the agenda. (The same is also true of Oral Communications, so all members of the public who want to speak, can. Some, however, have to wait until the end of the meeting).

The Watsonville City Council (according to Council worker Beatrix reached today by phone) also ALWAYS allows the public to speak on any item on the consent agenda, but they do it in a period before the Consent Agenda is voted on. They do NOT have a discussion of whether a member of the public should be given permission to speak. People who want to are just allowed to speak.


OTHER RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLIC COMMENT

Coonerty has also divided and cut back Oral Communications time from 3 minutes to 2 minutes. Oral Communications is the time when you can raise issues not on the Agenda, i.e rent control, police abuse, homeless harassment, council's investment in Iraqi war profiteers--all those items the Council chooses to ignore.

In addition, Coonerty has split Oral Communications time between the afternoon and the evening sessions (10 minutes at the first and 20 minutes at the second). While this is more convenient for some who have time during the afternoon, it shortens the amount of time in the evening, when people are more generally available.

Coonerty has continued the discredited practice of eliminating evening agendas (as he has done with today's Council meeting--there's no evening session). Instead everything is crammed onto a long afternoon session--which provides the pretext to shorten comment time on agenda items.

Also Oral Communications today is at a time uncertain at the end of the afternoon agenda. In other words, to speak for two minutes, you have to wait two hours (at least), because Coonerty won't schedule the time at the beginning of the 3 PM session (as he does when there is an afternoon and an evening session). I suppose it saves "staff time" by reducing the number of speakers at Oral Communications. Who wants to wait hours to speak at Oral Communications? You have to be there physically to reserve your place in line. You don't know when the speaking time will be. Not many people have the stamina and determination to do this.

Cost-cutting Coonerty, of course, has no problem with huge overtime police expenditures
(see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/02/24/18481449.php).

When 3-4 squad cars show up to arrest a homeless person a warrant for "sitting on the sidewalk" on Pacific Avenue or police spend city dollars harassing and surveilling the Wednesday Afternoon Drum Circle next to the Farmer's Market as part of his Parking Lot Panic Law enforcement (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/01/23/18474460.php), you can get an idea of Coonerty's priorities.


A LITTLE BIT OF 'UP' AND A LOT OF 'DOWN'

To his credit, Coonerty has also cut back staff time to 10 minutes (we'll see if he means this). Staff, traditionally conservative, has often been given unlimited time to present their agenda, without any kind of questioning from the public and often little of substance from City Council.

But significantly, unlike the federal legislature, Councilmembers themselves can babble on for as long as they wish without time limits.

There is also no procedure for the public to put an item on the agenda other than begging City Council members to do so. In Santa Monica, by contrast, one can use an independent process (which, admittedly, goes through the city manager's office).



ROTKIN ON THE RADIO SUNDAY MARCH 2ND

I shall be discussing this matter and others with Councilmember (and Shadow Mayor) Mike Rotkin on Sunday on Free Radio Santa Cruz at 101.1 FM (http://www.freakradio.org) 10-11 AM. Tune in. And call in at 831-427-3772.

Mayor Coonerty has been invited, but repeatedly declined, insisting that I am a person unworthy of a response (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/12/22/18468436.php). Coonerty's message phone is 831-423-8939 if anyone wants to make a direct inquiry or present an opinion.

I'll also be speaking at City Council today at 3 pm during the afternoon session.

I will suggest that Council revisit all items passed on the last four consent Agenda items. After all, Coonerty effectively closed down Public Comment periods for discussion of Consent Agenda items for one meeting in December, two in January, and two in February with confusing and restrictive rules that discouraged the public from comment.
.

SAD TRUTH IN CONCLUSION

Fighting these little battles with City Council to restore the pittance of time allowed the community often feels like a futile and losing battle.

Even if Coonerty followed the bad Mathews-Rotkin model of allowing a maximum of 5 minutes for public comment on the important but overlooked Consent Agenda, the Council could and would probably muzzle and ignore critics, as they've done in the past. Staff members and Council blowhards get all the time they want. Members of the public, even if publicly appointed Commissioners. Eric True, Vice-Chair of the Measure K Commission at the last City Council meeting got only 2 minutes while the pro-police department staff member Tina Shull got 5-10 minutes.

But it's important for the community to know how and why the city is being gentrified, public comment is being cut back, and power is being transferred to staff and government officials. Hence this article.

The only time Council listens is when people show up in significant numbers (then they jump in front of the parade, try to calm people down, shut them up, and take credit for the most vanilla-ized version of their concerns). Or when they're seriously threatened with a lawsuit. Or when an initiative is taken to the voters (though that can be sabotaged as Measure K was--see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/10/08/18452900.php .





Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Ryan Coonerty
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 6:50 PM
RYAN COONERTY: "City Council is not a public forum. Public comment is to provoke thoughtful debate. Having meetings drag on primarily as the result of 3 minute testimonies (delays) when we make our decisions. (This ordinance) will create a more democratic procedure that will lead to better public policy and better speech."

---- March 22, 2005 commenting on rule changes that limit public comment on agenda items from 3 minutes to 5 minutes total for all items.
by City Fan
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 9:11 PM
I personally like the new and dare I say improved guidelines during council meetings. It streamlines a lot of useless babble. If anyone witnessed the council meeting today, you would have witnessed 6 city residents, and Mr. Norse. All of them complaining like children about not getting their way. Veiling their motives with free speech rhetoric, when they are just unhappy the clowns from the Sugar-Krohn-Fitzmorse tenure are gone. Who famously would champion public comment to a level where nothing got accomplished and the first 30 minutes of the council meeting was a circus.

Look the meetings are posted and they are open to the public. People are also allowed to speak clearly and concisely about the items. It watching the meeting today, one or two items were taken off the consent agenda, after public comment, and will be discussed further. Things are getting accomplished at these meetings.

To the six residents who attended, and Mr. Norse; no one is stifling your freedoms of speech. There is a myriad of options to use to get your point across to the public and to council. Some will councilmember’s will listen and some wont I’m sorry that is life.

As I write this, I patiently wait for personal attacks for this commentary from all three members of HUFF.
by j nguyen
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 9:54 PM
"that is life"

You can attach that phrase to anything in order to justify something.
How bad will things get until people realize that serious changes need to be made?


Good night

PS-not a member of HUFF, just a young woman, student & tutor.
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 10:21 PM
At the afternoon City Council session this afternoon, Coonerty changed his rules or "clarified" them. This might have been in response to a variety of phone calls asking for clarification (which the new city clerk could not provide and which Coonerty also failed to call back on).

Instead of denying that folks could speak to the content of the items they wanted pulled for individual discussion, Coonerty allowed speakers to speak to the content of the items--contradicting what he had done at the previous meeting. So for this meeting (but not for the previous ones), he returned to the lawful confines of the Brown Act--allowing members of the public some comment on every item.

However the procedure still remains discriminatory. After a speaker presents their item and why it should be heard, what criteria are the city council using to decide if they'll allow more time? Once a Council member decided to pull the item and allow it more time, the speaker gets a second period to talk. Plus the privilege of having other members of the public being allowed to comment on the item. If the Mayor or some Council member likes what you have to say, you get special privileges? This sounds like more Brown Act violation (giving special procedural favor to some members of the public on rather arbitrary grounds).

It is true, a Coonerty supporter might argue, that on any agenda item (Consent Agenda or otherwise), a Council member can recognize or ask a question of a member of the public that will enable that person to speak further. T However that takes place in a situation where members of the public speaking on an item at least had equal time and all members of the public were allowed to participate (within time limits). The new Coonerty consent agenda procedure circumvents this.

It still seems mighty peculiar to have a special pre-screening session as to whether to remove consent agenda items. It does not resemble the Board of Supervisors procedure at all (Coonerty's claim that it does shows his ignorance). It does bear a resemblance to Watsonville's procedure--but there items are almost never removed by the public according to the staff member I spoke with--so the issue doesn't arise.

Perhaps that's the situation Coonerty is striving for--less and less public comment. He's succeeded in reducing it to 2 minutes unless you get the thumbs up. But ironically it unnecessarily increases the time allotted with this artificial procedure by requiring the special screening period. So it may not save time at all.

It probably will, by cutting back public comment the Council doesn't want.

This may violate other sections of the Brown Act, which reads: 54954.3 (b) and (c) which read:
"(b) The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.
(c)The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body."

The point is, you can't build in extra time for friends and cut back time for critics selectively. You can limit the total amount of time, or the time allotted for each individual speaker, but allowing some to speak and other not to--sounds like a violation to me.

A violation that Mayor Coonerty has allowed for 4 prior Council meetings.

There's also a built-in factor discouraging City Councilmembers from allowing items to be removed from the agenda: Once an item is removed, it can then be spoken to by others in the audience whom the Council may not want to hear from (such as the windy "King of Marijuana" Michael Tommasi).

Another tactic used this afternoon to divert attention from the fundamental illegality and unfairness of the original Coonerty rule was a sudden friendly softening: Every single request to have an item pulled from the agenda was granted. That's nice, but are we going to rely on the whims of a Councilmember, or their nervousness that perhaps folks are looking a little too closely into their Brown Act violations. When the critics recede and the spotlight is off, the Coonerty clampdown may resume.

What's actually happening is that Coonerty is allowing members of the public to make a pitch of 2 minutes instead of the previous allowed discussion of 5 minutes for consent agenda items that they want to pull. The net effect is to reduce the amount of time allowed to discuss consent agenda items you want pulled from 5 minutes to 2 minutes--if they decide not to pull the item--on who knows what criteria?

No Councilmember defended the procedure or clarified that Coonerty had changed his initial rules. The Council also took no vote on these bizarre new rules--which were simply accepted by fiat as a mayoral privilege.

The rules are also highly confusing, it seems to me, to everyone (particularly folks new to Council). They also seem to involve unnecessary repetition for those who do receive City Council favor and are allowed to speak further.

Principally--as mentioned before--the time to speak on items you have removed is reduced from 5 minutes to 2 minutes, unless the Council likes what you have to say. Which sounds like it violates the Brown Act again.

More discussion on this issue Sunday morning with the ever voluble Rotkin at 10 AM Sunday on FRSC (see above).
CITY FAN WRITES: "I personally like the new and dare I say improved guidelines during council meetings. It streamlines a lot of useless babble."

BECKY: Of course "useless babble" is all that the councilmembers hear when it is the time for public comment. Current Mayor Ryan Coonerty and past mayors Kennedy, Rotkin, Fitzmaurice and Sugar were famous for open derision towards members of the public when reasonable concerns were intelligently raised through lawful means. Mayors Celia Scott and Katherine Beiers, on the other hand, were the model of respectful attitude and temperance towards members of the public participating in the democratic process. They constantly reminded us that it is the electorate which they serve. Santa Cruz, through an old-fashioned process of public commissions composed of respected community members volunteering their time, has helped reduce the workload of paid city employees, and provided a reasonable interface for community members to participate directly in running the City.

That system has been dumped in favor of Coonerty's private club, the Downtown Task Force, where he, Robinson, and Mathews can do what they have always wanted to do---shape the downtown behind closed doors with merchants and police without having to deal with that messy democratic process.

Where does this task force meet?
Who do they meet with?
Where are the minutes of these meetings?

As for one who is lobbing personal attacks full throttle at KNOWN activists from behind a cowardly pseudonym, it's more than a little funny that YOU now "fear personal attacks."
by Sideshow Bob
Tuesday Feb 26th, 2008 11:44 PM
Attending or watching the meetings, you can just see everybody glaze over when Robert gets to the mic.
by Greg
Wednesday Feb 27th, 2008 8:19 AM
Because they've heard it all before. Every argument. Every sentence. Every threat. Every justification.
Nothing is new.
by Greg
Wednesday Feb 27th, 2008 9:08 AM
BECKY WRITES: Freedom of Speech requires allowing dissenting speech

GREG WRITES: So why do you guys refuse to listen to any other point of view besides your own?

This is why HUFF has the problems they face. In the eyes of HUFF there is only one solution, their solution. And there is only one way to calm them down, by doing what they say.
by Becky Johnson
( becky_johnson222 [at] hotmail.com ) Wednesday Feb 27th, 2008 9:36 AM
GREG WRITES: So why do you guys refuse to listen to any other point of view besides your own?

BECKY: HUFF meetings are open to the public and anyone may come and sit in on our meetings, put their items on our agenda, and engage in discussions (every WED. 9:30 - 11:30 @ the American Cafe in the basement of the County Bldg. 701 Ocean St.). We actually scrutinize every point of view presented that differs from our own.

The HUFF position on this issue is that Ryan Coonerty is violating the Brown Act by setting up a gate regulating who can speak on consent agenda items. And that that gate is controlled by councilmembers themselves, leading to cronyism, and suppression of critics.

Ryan Coonerty is CUTTING BACK public comment, which is quantitatively less democratic on its face.

He is also violating the Brown Act with his Downtown Task Force.
Perhaps you would like to explain why this is NOT true. Really. I'm all ears.
by Greg
Wednesday Feb 27th, 2008 1:31 PM
Are you seriously suggesting that someone go to one of your meetings so they can be put on one of your lists, Agent Johnson? No thanks. I'll continue to help the community my way. A way the ends with results.
by Becky Johnson
( becky_johnson222 [at] hotmail.com ) Thursday Feb 28th, 2008 7:59 AM
If you refuse to come to a HUFF meeting, then don't accuse us of not listening to differing viewpoints. You are talking through your hat out of ignorance and with hostility.

You sound like a Ryan Coonerty supporter, but , somehow you haven't raised a single
argument in his defense other than to hurl unsubstantiated insults at HUFF members.

Does his Downtown Task force violate the Brown Act or not? Tell us!!

Robert Norse raised a series of concerns about the massive amount of spending on the Coast Hotel Project BEFORE the project had even been approved. He did this by pulling items off of the consent agenda and commented on them.

He alerted other community activists to the situation and they responded by mounting a campaign against the project which ultimately killed the project. But not before the City had uselessly wasted $450,000!!

Same old stuff all the time with nothing new? Please!!
by Robert Norse
Friday Feb 29th, 2008 11:05 AM
Further discussion, debate, and City Council sneakpeeks on this subject (mostly from me and councilwatcher Edward Davidson) can be found at:
http://www.santacruzcopwatch.org/robert/brb080228.mp3 .

The Rotkin-Golder debate on this and related issues will be posted a day or two after it airs (Sunday March 2 10 AM 101.1 FM http://www.freakradio.org ) at http://www.santacruzcopwatch.org/robert/brb080302.mp3 .

Rotkin and Coonerty have yet to provide the documentation requested behind the rule change requiring Council members to agree before a open public comment on a consent agenda is allowed. The request was made of Coonerty a week ago. Rotkin promised to have the documents available over 10 days ago.

You may inquire directly of them "why the delay?" at 831-430-5020.
by Johnathan
Wednesday Mar 5th, 2008 9:16 AM
So whatever happened with this?
by Johnathan
Friday Mar 7th, 2008 12:16 PM
Any updates?
by Robert Norse
Saturday Mar 8th, 2008 10:05 AM
As of now, there's been no new info on the Coonerty rules other than Rotkin's public discussion of them on Free Radio March 2nd, and the printed sheet distributed at City Council on February 26th. Mayor Coonerty, as mentioned above, can perhaps be reached at 423-8939. He hasn't returned my phone call.

An earlier request for documentation from Coonerty [http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/12/22/18468436.php] of charges he made against me (harassment, intimidation, etc. of relatives, employees, city workers) has elicited nothing but silence. The City Council staff claimed they had no public records on this, though Coonerty's letter denouncing me went out on city stationery under his name and mayoral title.

On February 19th, I e-mailed Mike Rotkin the following Public Records Act request:

"Councilmember Mike Rotkin
Santa Cruz City Council

Mike:

Following up on our conversation earlier today, I'm looking for:
(a) a written copy of the rule changes Mayor Coonerty has put into practice at City Council, particularly the new rule which, as you explained it to me, allows Council members to refuse to allow members of the public to speak on consent agenda items unless they can obtain a positive vote (or perhaps get a Council member herself to pull off such an item);
(b) the agenda and minutes of the meeting where this matter was either introduced and voted on;
(c) any City Attorney opinion around this item finding it complies with the Brown Act.

Thanks for your help.

I'd also like to know if you're willing to come on the air next Sunday morning and discuss the issue directly.

Thanks,
Robert (423-4833)"

On the show March 2nd, Rotkin requested I contact him by phone and e-mail for further information. I am doing so today again (adding requests for any e-mails discussing the proposed rule changes), but the e-mail request above is pretty clear, and nearly a month old.

Rotkin did admit on the air that he himself "didn't understand' the changes when they were announced (though they were used in the February 12th Council meeting to block any discussion of the L-BAM item, both on Oral Communications and on the Consent Agenda).

I suggest folks get in touch with Coonerty, make an appointment to speak with him, and demand further info. This, of course, is only one small piece of a much larger repressive special-interest agenda.
Coonerty is a bad guy - boycott Bookshop Santa Cruz and shop Logos instead
by Robert Norse
Monday Mar 10th, 2008 10:46 AM
Thanks to indybay.org/santacruz for featuring this story.

The Tuesday March 11th afternoon agenda has this new addition:

"Consent Agenda

Note: Prior to the City Council’s consideration of the Consent Agenda, members of the public are invited to comment on Consent Agenda items. After public comment, any Councilmember may remove Consent Agenda items from the Consent Agenda. Items which remain on the Consent Agenda will be acted upon by the City Council pursuant to a single motion. Items removed from the Consent Agenda will be considered after the City Council vote on the Consent Agenda. Members of the public may comment on removed Consent Agenda items prior to the City Council action on these items."


PREVIOUSLY

For the last two decades at least, as mentioned in the main article, you could pass a green card up to the City Clerk during a meeting and require the Council to remove a Consent Agenda item for separate comment.

Often Mayors used various devices to discourage this.

These included putting items at the end of the agenda, giving you an absurdly limited amount of time to speak (I once got 30 seconds from Mayor Fitzmaurice) as well as interrupting and badgering.


ROTKIN'S 5 MINUTE LIMIT

In 2005, Rotkin reduced time allowed for comment on all the Consent Agenda items however many you talk on to 5-minutes. Since this could involve many items, it turns public comment into sound bytes. Which, of course, is all the Council generally regards public comment as amounting to anyway. See http://santacruz.indymedia.org/newswire/display/17159/index.php

The Rotkin 5-minute time limit is likely still in effect. It's not clear---since Coonerty's clampdown rules have had a chilling effect on Consent Agenda public comment. Once you coax a Council member pulls an item to "allow" you to speak on it, Coonerty has granted 2 minutes--reduced from 3 under previous Mayors. But remember, that's only with Council permission.

I was upset with the Rotkin time constriction back in 2005 because it unfairly constricted public comment time by not allowing you to respond to other items pulled off, if you'd "used up your 5 minutes". The Brown Act which guarantees the public certain rights at public meetings requires the Council to allow you comment time on each and every item if you wish. For trying to speak for 2 minutes, Rotkin arrested me and dragged me through the courts for 16 months.


NEW WORDING

Coonerty's new wording above formally reduces Rotkin's 5 minute limit to 2 minutes, unless a Councilmember in her or his supreme wisdom decides to allow you to speak on a specific item and allow other members of the public to do so. No other City Council or public body has done this in a similar situation. For the very good reason that it violates state law as well as shows supreme contempt for the public.


WATSONVILLE

The Watsonville City Council has a pre-Consent Agenda period, but in the last year the staff member I spoke with didn't remember any member of the public ever trying to pull an item. This is markedly different from Santa Cruz where there's rarely a Council meeting where a member of the public doesn't try to pull an item. In Watsonville, the staff member does not recall any Council member ever denying the public the right to pull and speak on a specific item. In Santa Cruz shadowmayor Mike Rotkin publicly proclaimed he would "absolutely" not allow people to speak on certain items.


FEBRUARY CONFUSION

Coonerty's constitution-trimming changes have gone through a winding dance since they were announced to the staff in a memo (still not forwarded to me in spite of a public records act request) shortly after Coonerty became Mayor.

Consider what happened in February.

At the February 12th meeting, Coonerty stopped members of the public from mentioning the substance of the LBAM-checkmate item, both at Oral Communications and on this pre-Consent Agenda comment period mentioned in the first sentence. He and Rotkin "explained" at that meeting that you could only talk about why you wanted your item(s) pulled to allow you and others to comment WITHOUT mentioning the substance.

On February 26th, perhaps in response to call-in's to the City Council offices seeking clarification and expressing opposition, Coonerty reversed his position and said you could--in a 2 minute period--persuade the Council as to why they should pull an item for broader comment. 2 minutes for any of the Agenda's 6-30 items (it varies from meeting to meeting).


TO REITERATE (AGAIN!)

The latest rewording disguises the fact that the amount of time a critic will be allowed to speak on the Consent Agenda--as a whole--has now been reduced to that absurdly brief 2 minutes--which is not a reasonable amount of time really for one item, much less for 6-30 as a bloc.

Other parliamentary councilwatchers like Ed Davidson and Thomas Leavitt believe this violates the Public Meetings (Brown) Act. I'm hoping to get a specific opinion from the California First Amendment Coalition, which oversees such antics up in San Francisco.


CITY COUNCIL: A KITCHEN FOR CORRUPTING THOSE IN POWER?

Coonerty is a lawyer who teaches constitutional law classes up at UCSC and down at Cabrillo. This kind of behavior along with his repressive laws against public space, his defense of police spying New Year's 2006 and the subsequent coverup, his refusal to implement the Jones decision protecting homeless people sleeping at night, his gangbanging Tony Madrigal on the Halloween racial profiling charges, and his abusive response to activists protest is telling.

Getting into office in Santa Cruz typically means surrendering avowed principles in order to tow the line with the city staff and merchant community. It's a stepping stone for higher office. And perhaps in Coonerty's case, it's a dynastic decision--following in his father's footsteps.

Santa Cruz now has the distinction of having taken the lead in California on creating the Sleeping Ban (1978), the Downtown Ordinances (1994), the Move-Along Law (2003), & the Parking Garages and Lots Trespass Law (2006,2007).

For the latest moves to eliminate public spaces, keep an eye on Scope Park (the little green area across N. Pacific Ave. from the Town Clock along Mission St., due to be sold off, perhaps to play for police overtime and discourage "undesirables" from sitting there.
by Tim Rumford
Monday Mar 10th, 2008 1:54 PM
Thanks for the great explanation of an issue that difficult for the average person to understand, since the mainstream media doesn't seem interested in these things, but only what they think captures headlines. Mayor Connerty has wasted no time in creating & supporting many unconstitutional laws and now procedures at City Council that stifle free speech. The Mayor stated that time is the one reason for these new rules, then he wastes his and our time making meaningless proclamations telling us what not to watch on TV. I think we can handle making that decision all by ourselves. In a democracy we have that privilege, and do not need our Mayor making non-binding proclamations with so little time on his hands to run our city. If he has time for that, he has time to listen to people who care about our City on issues that directly affect them.

Being mayor of nearly 60,000 people in a small area, approx 12 miles -- is only a 20 hour a week job. Personally I believe it should be a full time job. I wish he would spend time working for the welfare and safety of our entire city rather than stifling free speech and driving us further and further out of a democratic process where we as the people have little to no impact on City Council decisions. In truth, they never listened much anyway but this just makes it all the easier for them to forget the people, and get to "biz as usual" -- which has never served us as a whole.

Thanks for the informative article.
Tim Rumford


For those interested in the twists and turns, Coonerty has made trying to bend his repressive Council policy to fit the Brown Act, and the First Amendment, here's what his staff distributed on an 8 1/2" X 14" yellow "Meeting Guidelines" sheet at the February 26th meeting:

"Consent Agenda: All items appearing on the Consent Agenda are considered to be routine and will be acted on in one motion. Members of the public are invited to speak for two minutes to request that a Council member remove an item or items for discussion. Specific items may only be removed by members of the City Council for separate consideration and discussion. members of the public will have two minutes to speak to any item removed from Consent by a Council member."

"Any member of the publish wishing to speak on multiple Administrative Business items may speak for two minutes on one item of his/her choosing; afterwards the comment period will be for one minute on each additional item."

"Each Council member may recognize a member or members of the public for additional time or move additional time for public discussion."


On the March 11th Agenda, these rules have been changed to:

"Consent Agenda

Note: Prior to the City Council’s consideration of the Consent Agenda, members of the public are invited to comment on Consent Agenda items. After public comment, any Councilmember may remove Consent Agenda items from the Consent Agenda. Items which remain on the Consent Agenda will be acted upon by the City Council pursuant to a single motion. Items removed from the Consent Agenda will be considered after the City Council vote on the Consent Agenda. Members of the public may comment on removed Consent Agenda items prior to the City Council action on these items."

COMMENT: The February 26th rules make it clear that those whom the Council favors will be allowed additional time to speak (2 more minutes). It's also clear that members of the public the Council disfavors will only be given a grand total of 2 minutes for all consent agenda items--and only "to request that a Council member remove an item or items for discussion".
The March 11th rules obscure three violations of the Brown Act. One is content-based--giving favored speakers preferential time; a second is process-based--not allowing members of the public to pull items off the agenda; a third is the unreasonably small amount of time allowed.
Finally Coonerty's February 26th rules--as they relate to Administrative Agenda items (some afternoon items that usually follow the Consent Agenda)--reduces Rotkin's mandated time of 3 minutes for the 1st item, and 1 minute for each successive item to 2 minutes for the 1st item and 1 minute for each successive item. Rotkin's reduction in time was bad enough (Council, of course, can blather on without limit); Coonerty's new rules shows a kind of heroic determination to be even less respectful of the public in the interests of saving the City Council time.
Naturally none of Coonerty's rules have gotten any kind of public hearing, received public comment at City Council, or been voted on by the Council. So, at least, we can agree--the Mayor is consistent in his autocracy.
This is the kind of attitude you might expect in some conservative southern California community, not in Santa Cruz. Of course, Santa Cruz has had an undeserved reputation for liberalism for many years. Likewise the Coonerty clan (at least, father and son) have shared this false mythology.
by Ben
Tuesday Mar 11th, 2008 5:57 PM
Now I'm not trying to be an ass and in no way am I trying to attack Robert, but......

The article is written by Robert and almost all of the follow up comments are either by Robert or Becky. It as if they are keeping the comments going even though no one else is interested enough to chime in.

This site is not an extension of the HUFF site.
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Mar 11th, 2008 10:06 PM
Actually I made five additional updates and comments, Becky made 3, and others made 11.

It'd be nice if others would actually address the issues (i.e. do they feel two minutes is enough time for the public on a potential 30 items on the Consent Agenda?).

Or if mainstream media actually covered the issue.

by Rico
Wednesday Mar 12th, 2008 12:17 PM
I'm grateful to you Robert for being the burr under the saddle of democracy. That you are there at every City Council meeting and every Downtown Association meeting warms the cockles of my heart.

But truth be told, whether 2 minutes or 30, no one knows this more than yourself, they couldn't give a rat's ass what you or I or those other people of the public have to say.

You are either with the program of "progress" or you are not. If you are not, stand back or you're going to get run over.

In my humble opinion, it isn't a matter of getting our 5 minutes of say, or having transparent meetings, or catching the ear of so-called representatives, or even getting the right person's butt in a city council chair.

When you see the city government working for those with money and power -- when you see it locking the public out of decision-making -- looking away as police abuse the citizenry -- further marginalizing the marginalized -- putting property rights over human rights -- you are not seeing a broken and corrupt system. You are seeing a system working as it is intended.

Look around. What does this local government, or even the national government protect and prioritize? What does it ignore?

Do you really think you have any use for city government and police? I mean, I know it is vaguely comforting at times to know that they are there, but what use do you have of them? Has the city government helped you in any tangible way whatsoever? Can you say the police kept you safe before a crime happened or helped you recover anything?

On the other hand, how much have you paid in parking tickets downtown? Ever got a ticket from a city cop? Ever been harassed by a city cop? Have you ever had a run in with the building department? Ever reported a crime and felt talking to the cops that YOU were under suspicion? Ever felt your opinion was listened to in City Council? Do you feel like as an ordinary citizen that the downtown association gives a shit what you think? Ever felt like local laws governing behavior applied more and more to you?

You asked for my opinion and here it is: The arbitrary rules that surround the puppet show called the City Council are insignificant. Decisions are made long before they get to Council, and we all should know this.

Appealing to those who claim authority over us validates that authority. Fuck that.

Trying to make change from within this system is a waste of your time and a futile diversion from making real change through direct action.
by Sum Dim
Friday Mar 14th, 2008 3:46 AM
It's all fine and dandy to talk about procedures in faraway lands like Watsonville, Robert. Those places however, don't have to deal with non-residents such as yourself and Becky rolling into town every Tuesday and completely co-opting the governance process for personal amusement.

You're conflating your agenda and that of the broader public in Santa Cruz, most of whom are happy to see delusional commentary from malicious people like you and Becky give way to a rational public discourse.
by Craig
Friday Mar 14th, 2008 10:32 AM
Has the city government helped you in any tangible way whatsoever?
- Paved and patched roads, fixed streetlights, removed abandoned cars from my street (happens with more frequency than I thought it would!), provided water and sewage, took away my trash and provided a comprehensive recycling program, provided a venue for performances and lectures as well as fairs and sales (the Civic), etc etc etc etc etc

Can you say the police kept you safe before a crime happened or helped you recover anything?
- on the first part, it's hard to prove that point. I have a magic machine that keeps away elephants. It works because I've never been attacked by an elephant! However, when I was burglarized a few years ago, they sent an officer right away who was courteous, efficient, took prints and made safety recommendations for the future. No, they didn't catch the guy/girl, but then again they didn't have much to work with other than prints, so who can blame them?

On the other hand, how much have you paid in parking tickets downtown?
- Zero. I don't park illegally.

Ever got a ticket from a city cop?
- No, I don't engage in illegal behavior.

Ever been harassed by a city cop?
- No, because I don't act in any way that would induce that harassment.

Have you ever had a run in with the building department?
- No, but just because I don't own property so I've never had to interact.

Ever reported a crime and felt talking to the cops that YOU were under suspicion?
- No, see my answer above.

Ever felt your opinion was listened to in City Council?
- Yes, in the times that I have actually done so. Then again, my opinions aren't the "let everyone sleep where they want" or "stop enforcing any laws whatsoever" ilk.

Do you feel like as an ordinary citizen that the downtown association gives a shit what you think?
- Why do I care what they think? They're a business association set up to enhance their membership's business. Other than to provide some great incentives and programs, such as the snow they bring in every winter for kids to play in, I don't have an interaction with them. But they must be evil, because they try to make downtown a place where it's nice to visit, right?

Ever felt like local laws governing behavior applied more and more to you?
- With the exception of the 15-minute rule, no. Because my behavior isn't despicable, criminal, drug-addled or disruptive.

Here's my opinion: the council is made up of people who have their own opinions. Those opinions can be swayed at times by public comment and discussion (as it was with the party citation issue). But it is NOT their job to do what you, specifically, want every single time. They represent a lot of people, not just Rico, Becky and Robert. Just because you have the luxury of being able to go to every single meeting of the council and stay the entire time (some of us have jobs, families, after-school programs, dinner to make, lawns to cut, etc) doesn't mean that you are the majority.

I'm glad you can do so, for your own sake and for the sake of discussion, but just because they don't agree with you all the time doesn't mean they are horrible people in the pay of evil ne'er-do-wells who seek global domination in the little pond that is Santa Cruz.

If you all think you can do a better job, run for the damn office yourself. If enough people agree with your views, you win. And then you can sit at council meetings and blab on and on about whatever you like for however you like (a la Rotkin the neverending). Short of that, you get time to speak on a subject, but you don't get to co-opt the entire time for your few pet issues, simply because you don't have anywhere else to be.
by Rico
Friday Mar 14th, 2008 1:14 PM
Though we have different experiences and come to different conclusions, I appreciate your thoughtful answers to my questions, Craig. Kudos to you if you park downtown ever and have never gotten a ticket. I'm impressed.

My experience is that you don't have to stray very far from the norm, or in fact do anything illegal to have unsatisfactory police interactions. With the increasing legislation of every facet of our public (and sometime private) behavior, more and more I run afoul of the law just by existing.

A few months ago, I wandered downtown with a friend and realized I wasn't feeling very well. Not well at all in fact, maybe a fever, but I felt dizzy and like I needed to sit down for a few minutes. I sat down for no more than a few seconds on the broad window ledges at the surf shop at Cooper & Pacific. Within seconds a cop walked up and told us we'd have to move along. My friend explained that I was not feeling well. The stony faced cop insisted that if we didn't move immediately, we'd be issued a ticket.

Several times in years past, we've set up a stand where we gave people free coffee downtown. And while we've never been kicked out, we were definitely eyed with suspicion, questioned, had officers and hosts escalate the situation to their supervisors, etc. Similarly, friend have set up Free Letter Writing Services downtown that have gotten similar treatment.

Playing music downtown, one complaint from someone living in apartments in the heart of downtown can shutdown music being enjoyed by dozens of people. That's weird by almost any measure.

I have dozens of interactions of that nature with cops or downtown "hosts."


I'm not pointing out that police are harassing people or selectively enforcing these laws (while that may be true). I'm not trying to say that police are any more corrupt than than the system they represent.

It may be true that if you tow the line and know the laws and follow them and look and act average and come downtown to shop rather than loiter, you may (or may not) have unpleasant law enforcement experiences. I hear you saying that you don't have negative police encounters because you don't engage in illegal behavior. Kudos to you and I hope that keeps working for you.

But some of us in just trying to live freely (and respectfully to others) keep running up against what is no longer legal. Having a conversation with someone we meet walking through a parking lot. Sitting in a park to watch the sunset. Sitting on a curb to drink a coffee. Playing music on the sidewalk. Having friends over for a party on a Friday night. Having a parade. Sleeping in our cars when we are between homes. And that doesn't even get into the realm of dissent which is even more rapidly legislated against.

Those laws that increasingly govern the way we relate to each other do little to facilitate good communication or behavior. They are stand-ins for us talking to each other and expressing what we need.

If my band is playing on the sidewalk too loud, and you lean out your window to ask if we could keep it down, we'd be happy to do that (and if another band refuses and are too big of assholes to be respectful of their community, they will lose the support of that community).

If you come out and talk to kids hanging out in front of your store, you may get to know them and they might get to know you. Maybe a mutual respect will develop. Who knows?

Ah, shit I'm sounding like an anarchist again. You know those crazy-eyed zealots who are constantly slinging around insane ideas like self-sufficiency, personal and community responsibility, mutual support for others, open-ended relationships, and the unnecessity of authority to govern over us.

by Doug Enns
Friday Mar 14th, 2008 2:08 PM
I know the cops have apprehended people who vandalized Robert's car, Rico. And gentleman that he is, he didn't even bother to say thanks. True story.
by Rico
Friday Mar 14th, 2008 3:15 PM
Well that's Robert (allegedly), but I wouldn't call the cops.

And my original thread was to some degree aimed at giving my friend Robert some grist for his mill. I'm glad that he's there giving 'em hell, but I pondered whether all that energy directed at empty suits was the best use of his tremendous energy.

Or more simply and more generally put, when are we going to stop pleading with politicians to get our needs met?
by Doug Enns
Saturday Mar 15th, 2008 8:41 AM
Wes, it's disingenuous to just sit back and say "I wouldnt call the cops". They're here for our collective security and peace of mind. Just because you have a cop complex doesnt mean the whole institution should be written off. Robert Himself doesn't seem to have a problem using them for protection when it serves his purpose. Too bad they can't just say no, though. I bet they wish they could!

Anyway, I'm glad you're so secure that you'll never need them. Not me though.

By the way, Robert's "tremendous energy" would be more impressive if he had a day job like the rest of us. Catcalling on the sidewalk all day long, secure in one's trust fund check coming in every month, is hardly an inspirational life story.
by Sum Dim
Saturday Mar 15th, 2008 1:09 PM
And Rico, next time you have a cop throw some ordinance at you to get you to modify your behavior, think about this. These ordinances have been enacted not by a bunch of petty bureaucrats and politicians who couldn't think of anything better to do between breakfast and lunch, but by a citizenry that has had it to the eyeballs with childish transients and drug addicts who need to be told once an hour how to behave in public.

Decorum is not some old-fashioned and quaint custom, Rico. It's the bedrock of communities. It allows people to coexist by injecting mores and rules of behavior. Modern societies also function on it. I suppose places that still pine for the sixties have a harder time understanding this, though.

When you're cheerleading some out-of-towner like Norse as he deliberately tries to tear down the institutions and way of life that make Santa Cruz such an enjoyable place for so many, remember that it's in response to his type that so much of this ridiculous legislation is born. It's too bad that he and his pals can't be bothered to behave like adults, but there it is.
by Craig
Sunday Mar 16th, 2008 2:40 PM
Yeah, I'm surprised I haven't gotten a ticket, either, but then again I tend to park in the garages (the paid ones) because I'm either there so quickly that it's a cheap convenience (I mean, where else can you park in a downtown area for so little money? Ever been to SF and tried to park in a lot?!?!?!) or for so long that I'd go over any time limitation. But that's neither here nor there...

One point I want to make, and to do so with respect if you'll allow, is that perhaps your interactions with the police are based on your history with them? The SCPD is a small force overall, and you've at least posted here that you've had semi-confrontational exchanges with them, so part of me has to wonder whether their antipathy to you is merely a reflection of your antipathy towards them. I don't presume to know all the details of your interactions, just the few you've ever talked about here and your general statements.

I like your closing statement, but I think it illustrates my point as well. As Sum Dim pointed out, a lot, if not all, of these downtown ordinances and rules at council meetings are created because the common courtesy that you ask for isn't present all the time. One can't pass a law or ordinance that says simply "thou shalt not be a jerk". Unfortunately, you have to actually spell out what being a jerk is, and that's where you get the minutia of regulations that Robert and Becky, especially, malign (ie: the number of feet from doorways, the amount of time to table, etc).

If everyone acted as you do, then I really don't think we'd have the type or strict rules that are in place now. I honestly believe that. You or others might think that they'd be inevitable for one reason or another, but that's a matter of opinion.

Peace.


by Rico
Monday Mar 17th, 2008 11:59 AM
Honestly, and maybe for the first time I agree with Sum Dim. That is, social mores are bedrock in communities. My problem is with the legislation and externalization of these mores. When you codify social behavior, you do several destructive things:

Simply put, laws regulating behavior take away our responsibility to our community . Both in terms of how we act toward others and in how we hold other responsible in how they act toward us.

Similarly, these laws centralize that power and responsibility. Rules regulating how we behave externalize that responsibility to a professional class of playground monitors who are going to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Codifying behavior makes us less flexible as a community. We are no longer able to make those choices for ourselves. Our collective culture, the ever-changing sum total of our community's desires are no longer flexible. In order to change what we see (collectively or individually) as outdated, unjust, or obsolete we must act outside the laws regulating behavior, that is, we must act illegally.

Lastly, as I've stated before, these laws do nothing to foster our interdependent relationships. Instead of talking to a neighbor, I 911 him. Instead of asking the young hooligans leaning against my store to move along, the downtown "hosts" do my dirty work. Thus, I never get to know either my allies or my adversaries because these interactions are outsourced to people I pay to protect me from unpredictable experience.

In a community where our behavior is responsible to everyone, social mores and social pressure would be the most important consideration we would answer to.
by Tim Rumford
Saturday Apr 5th, 2008 10:37 AM
I agree that opposing a system that is fixed, is validating the very thing you are fighting. Why play a fixed game? Direct action is a better route. Although exposing the flaws of a fixed game is important, validating a broken system is worse. It would be better that we all show up and turn our back to the City Council, maybe with duck tape on our mouths, than pander to their petty rules. The simple fact is the system is broken, panders to certain interests, and most things are all wrapped up before City Council sessions even begin, much like our juvenile justice system. It is VERY rare that the City changes its mind due to public input. We had a chance after the quake to make downtown a very cool place and that never happened. Now were building taller and taller buildings as the ones below are failing.
I have gotten to the point where I detest downtown. I hate to say that, but I do. Not because of the homeless, or police, or kids, or fear. Its just not a very... nice place anymore, and I have watched it change for a very long time in ways I don't like. There is nothing for me there, except a few thrift stores. Way too much noise and traffic, so, I rarely go downtown anymore.