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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Police State and Prisons

Nasty new ordinance making Sleeping Ban Tickets misdemeanors Tuesday 3 PM at City Council
by Robert Norse
Saturday Jun 19th, 2010 5:40 PM
The City Attorney's office is apparently not satisfied with spending $50,000 to $100,000 targeting Anna Richardson and Miguel de Leon in the unusual and unjustified Permanent Injunction Hearing that lasted through the last week. Their crime? Sleeping tickets in a town with no shelter for 95% of its homeless. The new law would restore misdemeanor status to Sleeping and Blanket Ban citations (removed in 1999 by City Council action). The First Reading of the new law will be hustled through Tuesday afternoon at another of Mayor Rotkin's inconvenient-for-the-public 3 PM sessions of the twice-monthly City Council meeting. It is item #25 on the agenda. Due up at a time uncertain--probably 3:30 PM or later.
Agenda Item #25 on the Tuesday 6-22 City Council afternoon agenda is titled the Code Enforcement Ordinance.

Staff report at http://64.175.136.240/sirepub/cache/2/u4voer45dxwh3a45vopkg1vq/231467606192010055938853.PDF

Text of the ordinance at http://64.175.136.240/sirepub/cache/2/u4voer45dxwh3a45vopkg1vq/231467706192010060025275.PDF

It replaces the current law passed in January 2009 by City Council. That was a quick and dirty deal with the Downtown Association (see "Notes on the Proposed New Improved Downtown Ordinances Reducing Public Space" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/26/18565796.php and "Aftermath" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/02/09/18569234.php?show_comments=1#18569688).

The current law (MC 4.04.015) can be found at http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/SantaCruz/ as MC 4.04.015 .

The current law punishes any three "unattended" infractions--however unrelated--making a failure to pay or attend court a misdemeanor.

This can be used to arrest, jail, and charge a homeless person for missing court dates or not paying fines for three unrelated citations--let's say--one for sitting near a building, another for smoking, a third for sleeping outside) by allowing the City Attorney to file a misdemeanor charge. Jailing can be a serious and exhausting matter for a homeless person. After jailing a person, seizing their property, and holding it until the middle of the next week, the SCPD is only open to reclaim backpack, bedroll, and other survival necessities twice a week and then only an hour or two a day during those two days.

This, of course, gives the homeless person strong incentive to follow a cop's orders and adopt a subservient attitude no matter how humiliating, illegal, and/or unreasonable the cop's behavior may be.

In addition, activist Becky Johnson has pointed out that cops and courts often delay, rush,or screw up their infraction citation filings. Usually you have to wait at least a month before a ticket is filed with with the court. If the police are targeting you, you may be incurring additional citations while waiting for the earlier ones to appear.


EVEN THE CURRENT LAW WAS UNNECESSARY--UNLESS IT WAS INTENDED TO STIFFEN THE PENALTIES FOR SLEEPING AND COVERING UP WITH BLANKETS

A second violation of the same ordinance--for every ordinance in the Municipal Code--has for decades been chargeable as a misdemeanor. This is in the wording of each infraction as you read through the code. Misdemeanors allow police to arrest and jail the accused person. They require defendants to appear in court on penalty of Failure to Appear warrants--unlike infractions which just go to Failure to Pay penalty assessments and are sent to collection.

So if there's already a way of citing, jailing, and charging homeless people for the second violation of the tripwire matrix of laws set up in 1994 and 2002-3 called the Downtown Ordinances, why the 2009 changes? To please merchants, apparently, who wanted "something done" given the current recession. Simple homeless scapegaoting.

So there was no need for the current unattended infractions law, if the issue was finding some hook on which to arrest a "criminal sitter", someone in the park after hours, or a scofflaw smoker--once they'd broken the law twice. Police could always arrest someone for a second infraction as a misdemeanor.

But apparently even this isn't enough. And so a new law is being proposed that makes any infraction, subsequent to three tickets being ignored, a misdemeanor.

What's going on? Likely, this is a Homeless "Patriot Act" to circumvent the current limit on Sleeping Ban and Blanket Ban penalties--which are the only infractions in the city code that can't be charged as misdemeanors because of changes made by the City Council in 1999, and the only infractions which limit fines to $20 ($97 with court assessments added on) and 8 hours community service.

The current "three unattended infractions" does apply to Sleeping and Blanket ban tickets, allow for the 2009 "three infractions and you've got a misdemeanor" law (used once so far in the case of Melvin Jones). But the proposed law would actually restore misdemeanor status to Sleeping and Blanket Ban citations if a homeless person has gotten three other infraction citations--of any kind--and been unwilling or unable to deal with them.

More on this later.