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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons

Camping Ordinance Revisions Pass at City Council
by Robert Norse
Thursday Sep 16th, 2010 4:40 AM
City Council, after allowing restricted public comment, asked a few questions of Homeless Services Center [HSC] Executive Director Monica Martinez. It then passed the ordinance as written in spite of objections by Peacecamp2010 founder Ed Frey and others. Frey pointed out (again) that waking sleeping homeless people when they've committed no crime (since the necessity defense given no shelter makes them innocent at trial) is a form of cruel and unusual punishment where there is no crime and no victim (except for the sleeper). I suggested amendments that would require the HSC to have anyone sign up on their waiting list and provide a written receipt at the time which could then be taken immediately to the City Attorney to have the ticket dismissed.
Martinez agreed the "receipt" idea could be done, and Councilmember Madrigal supported it. Whether it will be done or not, however, seems largely in the hands of the City Attorney, who was given the authority to set all the parameters.

What's needed, of course, is to dump the ban entirely as recommended a decade ago by the City's own Homeless Issues Task Force--see http://www.cabinc.org/Research/HTFFinalReport.htm and go to the Introduction. See also "Homeless Issues Task Force Recommends Repeal of Camping Ban in Santa Cruz"
at http://www.huffsantacruz.org/StreetSpiritSantaCruz/136.Homeless%20Issues%20Task%20Force%20Recommends%20Repeal%20of%20Camping%20Ban%20in%20S.C.=12-99.pdf.

Short of that, the City needs to require police not to issue camping tickets when presented with the receipt or--better--adopt the Frey proposal that requires the police to phone HSC before their ticketing expeditions on any night to determine if there is any shelter available. If not, don't wake up and ticket homeless people. Frey, Linda Lemaster, attorney Kate Wells, Councilmember Katherine Beiers, and I are supposed to be meeting on this issue. However since the meeting was scheduled in lieu of the HSC's agreeing to issue a general letter acknowledging their utter lack of walk-in-emergency shelter from April 15 to November 15, it seems more like an HSC dodge than a real search for solutions.

Mayor Coonerty ended up allowing HUFF (whose spokesperson at the meeting was Becky Johnson) 4 minutes. However, in an apparent punitive move he demanded to know who in the audience were HUFF members and how many of them would "give up" their time. This is a policy unique to Coonerty which again cuts back public comment time. Rotkin, the lame-duck Mayor whose term ends in November, was absent, and Coonerty's comment cutback may indicate how he intends to run things in the likely event that the Council selects him as Mayor in November.

The Sentinel did a small story on the Camping Ordinance amendments, which were voted through without modification--though there was some discussion. (Sentinel article at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_16078467 ("Citations waived for homeless on shelter list: Santa Cruz camping ban altered to cover more than winter refuge"

Sentinel writer J.M. Brown told me it was his impression that the City Attorney already dismissed citations in the summer if shelters were full. I found this unlikely since shelters are almost always full and I've not heard of a ticket being dismissed by the City Attorney in this manner. Instead the usual procedure was for the Homeless Services Center [HSC] to issue letters when someone comes to them with a ticket. That letter is then taken to the courts, who fairly routinely dismiss the citations.

Recently, as I mentioned above, the HSC apparently changed that policy--perhaps under pressure from the City Attorney--it's not clear. The more restrictive policy now requires a person seeking to have a ticket dismissed through getting a letter documenting full shelter on the night of the ticket needs to have been on their waiting list on the date of the ticket. The new ordinance, if voted again in two weeks, will go into effect a month later. It will require the same "waiting list" status on the date of the ticket. And will also require the homeless person to contact the City Attorney with proof s/he is on the waiting list.

It's possible this latest minor loosening-of-the-screws was done under pressure from the courts, who recognize the unnecessary court hearings, given the overweening ever-present reality of no shelter. However since it is a nightly reality, allowing police to issue tickets at all is abusive or, as was said in the Jones decision and settlement "cruel and unusual punishment." It may be that the City Attorney may also be nervous about a law suit against the City for the Sleeping Ban.

Frey made the further point that those who choose or need to sleep outdoors should not be punished for that choice if they sleep in places that don't cause anyone else a problem.

Councilmembers Krohn and Sugar proposed a similar measure years ago in December 1998. "Mo stops or tickets for blankets or sleeping without a health-and-safety concern"" was the phrasing.. It was voted down by Rotkin, Matthews, and Beiers among others. See " Activists fight Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban" at http://www.huffsantacruz.org/StreetSpiritSantaCruz/104.Activists%20Fight%20S.C.Sleeping%20Ban=1-99.pdf & http://www.huffsantacruz.org/StreetSpiritSantaCruz/105.S.C.Sleeping%20Ban%28cont.1%29=1-99.pdf .

I'll be playing audio today from the City Council hearing and from interviews afterward with Monica Martinez, Executive Director of the HSC at 6 PM today on 101.1 FM and http://www.freakradio.org. It will be archived at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb100916.mp3.

Also on the air will be Rocky Neptun of San Diego talking about the Spencer settlement. That settlement is supposed to stop police from issuing citations at night to homeless people on the streets. There and in Los Angeles, homeless people aren't required to prove they made diligent efforts to find a shelter bed, or to prove there was no shelter that night by letter or show they were on a waiting list. The fact that there is never enough shelter pn any night is general knowledge This was enough to get the settlement that supposedly requires police to lay off. "Supposedly" because, according to preliminary info from Neptun, they are NOT laying off--in violation of the settlement.

In Santa Cruz, the situation is the same, but the City Attorney and his compliant City Council continue to turn a blind eye to the reality. Why? They need "tools" to drive away homeless people, even the City's own homeless as the domestic depression deepens. And so the city continues to quietly consume itself under cover of darkness.

Meanwhile, Peacecamp2010 activists are the real heroes whose 100+ tickets have forced the situation into the limelilght. They still need blankets, legal support, and food and can be found nightly (and daily) in front of City Hall on Center St. Also check out their website at http://www.peacecamp2010.blogspot.com/ and this website for updates.