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Standing Up to Bullying at City Council
by Robert Norse ( rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com )
Wednesday Jan 12th, 2011 10:04 PM
This is the extended version of a speech I gave during the crunched-down Oral Communications period at the January 11th City Council meeting. It was Mayor Coonerty's first full Council meeting. I also present some notes on Coonerty's new Oral Communications rules. These punish activists, segregates them from the public generally, and makes it difficult for them to speak on other agenda items and for the public to hear them. They show Coonerty's contempt for the public though he seems to feel they allow for public greater access in what seems to be a cynical political masquerade or a bizarre example of self-delusion. Apparently based on his feeling that activists like me need to be marginalized in order to encourage better citizens to come to Council. Somewhat similar to his "clean out the homeless and the tourists will come" approach downtown.
THE SPEECH

The federal court ruled against city council last month. Three mayors go to trial for falsely arresting and excluding a member of the public. Me. That was almost 9 years ago. I suggested silently that the Council was acting like a bunch of fascists by silencing the last two speakers.

I did this. [silent Nazi salute] Brief. Critical. Not to everyone's taste. Perhaps counter-productive. But this Council and this room is not made up of babies. We're not in a nursing home. Nor is this forum a G-rated movie or a kindergarten.

And we shouldn't stand for being treated as such. We must restore the right to fully and publicly criticize City Council, or it is no City Council at all. And we are no public, but simply actors in the Council's prefabricated agenda.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said unanimously—its actual words are-- “What a city council may not do is, in effect, close an open meeting by declaring that the public has no First Amendment right whatsoever once the public comment period has closed.” The Court rejected the City Attorney's notion that “the Council could legitimately eject members of the public who made a “thumbs down” gesture, but allow members of the public who made a “thumbs up” gesture to remain. That is, the City Council cannot force the public to be their cheering gallery or remain silent with hands folded during public meetings—provided anything said or done doesn't actually stop the meeting.

Seems simple enough. Yet $130,000 of your taxpayer money has gone to the City Attorney to defend the opposite idea. In effect, you are paying for the right of mayors to silence the public whenever they choose and to cover themselves when they mistakenly crack down.

Apparently Mayor Coonerty supports this defense of mayoral arrogance and is willing to see more thousands of dollars spent on it. He sent me an e-mail this morning rejecting any discussion of the issue. He apparently has no interest in aligning the rules of City Council with the Court's unanimous decision. That's sad. So we move back to court again for the third time later this spring. More money to save the public face of a repressive Council.

So Mayor Coonerty has his own unique idea of what the public's rights are. We've seen that before. He supports a Sleeping Ban for the homeless. His law allows cops to ticket you if sit in your car in a public parking lot. People who walk in New Year's parade without a permit should be ticketed. That's Ryan. Keep Santa Cruz Weird.

But what is more powerful and positive; what comes out of this high court decision is an implicit bill of rights for the community who gather in this room. The court said—these are its actual unanimous from 10 judges: “We decline the City’s invitation to rewrite First Amendment law to extinguish the rights that citizens have when they attend public meetings. We must respectfully reject the City’s attempt to engage us in doublespeak. Actual disruption means actual disruption. It does not mean constructive disruption, technical disruption, virtual disruption, or imaginary disruption. The City cannot define disruption so as to include non-disruption...”

This means to be disruptive, you must actually stop the meeting. Disrupt it. It's not enough to offend the sensibility of a Council member. It's not enough to shout out “nonsense” or boo and be told that if you do that again you'll have to leave. You don't have to leave. You have the right to be here.
You can hiss. You can applaud. You can hold up signs expressing your views. You can say what you want, the way you want it, with whatever visual aids you need up here.


Because the Mayor also knows that people in power get away with what the community allows them to get away with. Speaking your mind at City Council is not a disruption. It's not a disruption when I turn to include the entire room when I speak.


What's the message to the Mayor and the Council. Stop being bullies. Your job is to manage the meeting, not dominate it.


Simply cooking up a new rule is not enough. And there's a long history of that. Check your Sunday Sentinel for an op-ed piece. The First Amendment is still in force in this room, provided you don't stop the meeting from going on.


Tempers may get hot tonight when the issue of rent inspection fees come up. That's no excuse for the City Council to silence you with threats of arrest. Unless you actually stop the meeting from going on—and it doesn't count if the Mayor stops the meeting simply to intimidate you—the Court has ruled, you are within the law and it is the Mayor and City Council who are outside it.


So tonight if some of you come back or some of you out there come to the 7 PM meeting to discuss rental inspection fees---it will be your right to express negative as well as positive things about what the Council is doing and saying. Feel free to do this. Conquer your fear of criticizing authority.


Too many people have said too little about the war and bankruptcy nationally, and the police state climate of fear here in Santa Cruz.


So it's not going to be easy to change this Council—particularly since Mayor Coonerty has a majority. It's going to be up to brave individuals and groups to stand tall in the face of threats and manipulation from the Council. But it can be done.



SOME NOTES ON MAYOR COONERTY'S NEW ORAL COMMUNICATIONS RULES

First a few comments about the City's continuing crackdown on public comment and participation at these meeting.

Mayor Coonerty has moved Oral Communications time--the time the public can speak on all the issues the Council ignores--to a ghetto zone at 5:30 PM--in a kind of no man's land between the 3 PM session and the 7 PM session. Originally there was an indefinite Oral Communications period at the 7 PM period; then it was shorted to 45 minutes; then to half an hour and 3 minutes a speaker. The time was shortened by merging it with the Oral Communications time previously given separately to the Redevelopment Agency. When the Council began holding solo afternoon sessions, it moved Oral Communications to 3 PM. When it had both afternoon and evening sessions, it split the time--ten minutes for the public in the afternoon, twenty in the evening.

Now Coonerty has decreed (without a Council vote) there'll be this isolated half hour for people to speak at 5:30 PM.

This new 5:30 PM time is a strange segregation of activists and independent voices from the general public and the regular agenda items. Its placement cuts off the regular audience from hearing Oral Communications speakers, and the Oral Communications speakers from speaking on other agenda items.

The traditional oral communications time at 7 PM was obviously more convenient for working people who could finish work, go home, eat, and return. But then except for the favored lobbyists, mercantile interests, and conservative residents, who don't really need to attend anyway because their views are already being turned into legislation by the Coonerty majority, the Council rarely pays much attention to Oral Communications anyway.

It's a bad sign. The Mayor wants to intensify restrictive rules and policies. Two minutes instead of three even if that leaves all kinds of unused speaking time. You must bring along five people if you want to speak for an organization and then you only get an extra two minutes for the group rep. Those five won't be allowed to speak at Oral Communications at all, on any subject. Seemingly this denies common sense since six speakers speaking for 2 minutes each would get 12 minutes, while one speaker speaking for the group would only get 4 minutes.

It makes a perverse sort of sense when you understand that the previous rule allowed 5 minutes for a speaker speaking for a group, and didn't limit any other speakers. The rule wasn't abused and used only infrequently. Coonerty, apparently, wants to make sure it's never used.

Full disclosure: I did use it to make the "Bullying" speech above at City Council yesterday because none of the other people with me were prepared to speak. However, I recommend, if anyone wants to try to address City Council at all (which has been a lost cause for a number of years on many local civil rights and public access issues), they simply divide up a long speech among their group and have each person read two minutes of it.

What Coonerty (as well as Rotkiin and Mathews have done) is to make it clear that City Council is not a place where the public can go to speak to each other and to their public representatives. Considering the profound corruption that now riddles the Congress and other legislative bodies, this isn't surprising.

What it means for the community is that we have to create other ways to express ourselves and make the fundamental changes needed.

Will this Council be remembered as the Council that allowed Mayor Coonerty to require members of the public to beg City Council members before a Consent Agenda item is opened to public discussion? The only city in the state to do this?

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by DW
Thursday Jan 13th, 2011 5:37 PM
....in Santa Cruz. In Fresno, now past City Council president Larry Westerlund would tell you to shut your mouth, Robert. If you didn't, Westerlund would have you removed from Council Chambers by the police. Fresno has moved public comment to a time uncertain to eliminate disruptive folks, as public comment had become a circus of fools. The police were always present when public comment was in the mornings because of the nuts and squirrels who populated the room out in the audience. Since the time change, it hasn't been necessary to have police there. However, that may change post-Tucson.
by Craig
Thursday Jan 13th, 2011 6:10 PM
ROBERT: "Will this Council be remembered as the Council that allowed Mayor Coonerty to require members of the public to beg City Council members before a Consent Agenda item is opened to public discussion? The only city in the state to do this?"

A very quick Google search reveals that many, many, many cities in the state of California have the same policy towards Consent Agenda items as Santa Cruz. And I'm sure that you don't have to "beg" a council member to request an item be pulled or discussed. Although throwing yourself at their feet might be more dramatic, it's a pretty safe bet you'll get your point across with a simple request.

Oh, by the way. Another quick Google search shows that many cities in the state also have limits on the amount of time an individual is allowed to talk in front of their council. You should research that and get back to us with specifics.

As for the first part of your question, I'm sure there will be many things other than this issue that they will be remembered for.
by Seriously
Thursday Jan 13th, 2011 6:15 PM
In your own words Norse, do as you tell others to do: "Stop being bullies. Your job is to manage the meeting, not dominate it."

So try that yourself for a change. Stop bullying everyone who doesn't want to listen to your endless and inane rantings about your pet peeves. Stop dominating the public's podium and monopolizing a significantly disproportionate amount of time at the mike. I truly can't think of a single person who consumes more time at the city council, as a public speaker, than you.

What do you think Robert? Can you do as you tell others to do?

....I very much doubt it. You like to talk the talk, but you don't walk the walk. Both in city council meetings and in the community; your big on pointing out others faults and telling them what type of action they need to take, but in your personal life, you ignore or deny your faults and do very little if any constructive action other than dominate the mike at City Council.

(I suspect that each and every judge who ruled on the case, were they forced to have attended City Council the past decade and listen to each and every one of your rambling, egocentric diatribes.....would have changed their vote.)

by Robert Norse
Thursday Jan 13th, 2011 8:01 PM
Perhaps Craig can itemize some of those cities. I'd be curious.
by Craig
Thursday Jan 13th, 2011 10:55 PM
You know, Robert, you and Becky have this habit of just making blanket statements without taking the time, or making the effort, to find out if they are true or not. Then you expect other people to do the legwork to find out if it's the truth.

Google it yourself.

But I'll play along and give you one.

Amador. From their own City Council documents....

CONSENT AGENDA: Items listed below are considered routine and may be enacted by one motion. Any item may be removed for discussion and made a part of the regular agenda AT THE REQUEST OF A COUNCIL MEMBER.

Not by a member of the public, but a COUNCIL MEMBER. If you want a council member to remove the item, you must request that they do so. But they don't have to.

But I'll be generous and give you another.

Menefee. From their city council documents.

CONSENT CALENDAR
(All matters on the Consent Calendar are to be approved in one motion unless a Council Member requests a separate action on a specific item on the Consent Calendar. If an item is removed from the Consent Calendar, it will be discussed individually and acted upon separately.)

"unless a Council Member requests a separate action on a specific item". Not a member of the public, but a COUNCIL MEMBER. If you want a council member to remove the item, you must request of them that they do so. But they don't have to.

I also loved this little portion of the Menefee City Council Rules:

"Any person wishing to address the City Council on any matter within the jurisdiction of the City, whether or not it appears on this Agenda, is asked to complete a “Speaker Request Form” available in the back of the room. The completed form is to be submitted to the City Clerk prior to an individual being heard by the City Council. The City Council requests a time limitation of three minutes per person, and a time limit of thirty minutes for the Public Comments portion of the Agenda. If you are commenting on an Agenda item, your comments will be heard at the time that particular item is scheduled on the Agenda."

And then there's this:

AGENDA
The City of Menifee anticipates and encourages public participation on its Council meetings, both on agenda items and during the public comments period. Occasionally the comments made by speakers elicit responses from other audience members. The City has a decorum policy that can be found in the back of the room on a clipboard. That policy calls for respect by not having your cell phones on, refraining from outbursts, loud conversations or similar activities that might interfere with or disrupt the meeting in progress. While we encourage participation, we ask that there be a mutual respect for the proceedings.


You'll find similar things on MANY city council websites in the state of California. There's also many, many cities in California that have time limits for each member of the public to speak. And there are many cities that have a set time period for comment. Say 30 minutes or so. If they don't get to everyone.... too bad.

I find it interesting that you equate the word "request" with begging. As if when someone doesn't immediately do something just because you want it done, and you have to make a request, that they are forcing you to beg. It's called common discourse. If you want someone to do something for you, you need to ask them. You don't just tell them you want it done and expect them to do it. But what can we expect. Most of us that weren't born with an automatic trust fund enabling us to just get what we want have learned how to be civil when asking people to work with them.

by DW
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 5:33 AM
Both the Fresno city council, and for that matter the County Board of Supervisors have the same rules for consent calendar and public comment. The cities of Clovis, Fowler, Selma, and Kerman (just to list a few in my county) have similar rules. Ditto for both the city of Madera and the county of Madera.
by Very long list
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 7:48 AM
Disingenuous denial from Norse, per the usual. A simple google of "city council, 2 minutes" reveals dozens of cities with similar ordinances.
by Bob
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 10:22 AM
I have a question for Norse. In the second line of your speech to the council you said that three mayors go to trial for falsely arresting and excluding a member of the public. But the decision of the 9th circuit invalidated the claim of false arrest. In your post on December 15th you included the comment "The panel reversed summary judgment on Norse's free-speech claims, but it found that his false arrest and excessive-force claims against the police officer who removed him from the meeting had been properly dismissed." So in effect no one is going to trial for the false arrest claim. Could you please explain why you're still saying the trial will be for false arrest?

Also, wasn't the decision not really against the city but against the previous ruling that there would not be a trial? I thought this whole thing was about you being able to go to trial for the incident, when a previous judge had ruled you wouldn't. And doesn't going to trial open a different can of worms in some way?
by Bruce Holloway
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 10:27 AM
"for that matter the County Board of Supervisors have the same rules for consent calendar and public comment."

As I understand them, the rules at Board of Supervisors meetings differ from those of the City Council at least in these ways:

1) The Board of Supervisors allows unlimited total time for oral communications about subjects not on the agenda. They allow a limited amount of time at the start of a meeting and continue later during the meeting if necessary.

2) The Board of Supervisors allows a member of the public, not just a board member, to request that an item on the consent agenda be pulled and discussed and acted on separately.

With regard to 2), I agree with Robert that a rule which allows the City Council to vote on an item without hearing from a member of the public who wishes to address the Council on that item may violate section 54954.3 of the Government Code (part of the Brown Act)

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=54001-55000&file=54950-54963

which says, "(a) 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..."

It doesn't matter if a hundred other local boards have the same rule any more than hundreds of drivers holding cell phones to their ears makes that legal under California law.
by Clovis
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 12:02 PM
(b) of Section 54954.2. However, the agenda need not provide an
opportunity for members of the public to address the legislative body
on any item that has already been considered by a committee,
composed exclusively of members of the legislative body, at a public
meeting wherein all interested members of the public were afforded
the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or
during the committee's consideration of the item, unless the item has
been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as
determined by the legislative body. Every notice for a special
meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to
directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has
been described in the notice for the meeting before or during
consideration of that item.

If it's been discussed in a committee where the public did have an opportunity to speak up then they don't have to allow comment. Example: the Parking Lot Ordinance. It was discussed in the Downtown Commission and public comment was allowed. Those comments were included in the commission and staff report forwarded to the council. But the ordinance did not change, so it could have gone on the consent agenda and not allowed to be yanked.
by Bruce Holloway
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 1:15 PM
Tuesday's meeting began with a closed session at 1:30 in the Courtyard Conference Room followed by the public session at 3:00 in Council Chambers. But section 54957.7 says,

"54957.7. (a) Prior to holding any closed session, the legislative
body of the local agency shall disclose, in an open meeting, the item
or items to be discussed in the closed session...
(c) The announcements required to be made in open session pursuant
to this section may be made at the location announced in the agenda
for the closed session, as long as the public is allowed to be
present at that location for the purpose of hearing the
announcements."

If the required announcement were given in the public portion of the meeting, then the public would have its chance to comment on matters to be heard in closed session. But in general, the city affords no such opportunity.
by Clovis
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 2:58 PM
To answer your comment refer back to (b).
by DW
Friday Jan 14th, 2011 8:07 PM
....confused. I was referring to the Fresno County board of supervisors, NOT the Santa Cruz board. The Fresno board allows up to 15 minutes of public comment on items not on the agenda, with each speaker limited to a maximum of 5 minutes.

You make reference to "closed session" items. Here in Fresno, public comment on "closed session" is not allowed until the city council returns to open session and a report is given. As far as the agenda is concerned, some closed session items are clearly identified (lawsuits typically). Others, such as personnel matters or litigation about to be initiated by the City are not identified by name. The pertinent section of the Government Code allowing non-disclosure of a particular item is always cited on the agenda.

I know people believe Prop 59 totally changed the rules about public disclosure and the Public Records Act, but it really didn't.
by Robert Norse
Saturday Jan 15th, 2011 12:02 AM
The false arrest claim was dismissed against Officer Baker, not against Mayor Krohn--who made the citizen's arrest. That issue, though, is murky .in the 9th's decision. Attorneys Beauvais and Wells are seeking a clarification there.

Calls earlier today made to Monterey and San Jose City Clerks confirmed that they allow members of the public to remove and speak on items on the Consent agenda. A similar procedure is the case in Berkeley.

The critics above, however, are accurate about Fresno--whose city clerk's office I spoke to today.

My original claim that no or few cities have made the kind of restrictions on Consent Agenda comment that Coonerty has were based on phone calls 3 years ago to surrounding cities, and my request to Coonerty that he specify which city's use the muzzling procedure that he has imposed on our City Council. He gave me no substantive reply--though I've brought the issue up repeatedly at City Council.

Still, the real issue is whether this is a good policy, one which furthers democratic dialogue. It obviously doesn't.
by DW
Saturday Jan 15th, 2011 8:42 AM
are pretty much the norm in the Central Valley. My comments about why Fresno moved its public comment period are based upon a blog by George Hosteller of the Fresno Bee on the paper's website (take a look at the "News" blog) that he put up post-Tucson.
by Bruce Holloway
Saturday Jan 15th, 2011 10:30 AM
"(b) of Section 54954.2. However, the agenda need not provide an
opportunity for members of the public to address the legislative body
on any item that has already been considered by a committee,
composed exclusively of members of the legislative body, at a public
meeting wherein all interested members of the public were afforded
the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or
during the committee's consideration of the item, unless the item has
been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as
determined by the legislative body. Every notice for a special
meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to
directly address the legislative body concerning any item that has
been described in the notice for the meeting before or during
consideration of that item.

"If it's been discussed in a committee where the public did have an opportunity to speak up then they don't have to allow comment. Example: the Parking Lot Ordinance. It was discussed in the Downtown Commission and public comment was allowed. Those comments were included in the commission and staff report forwarded to the council. But the ordinance did not change, so it could have gone on the consent agenda and not allowed to be yanked."


The part of 54954.3(a) that you quoted applies to a committee "composed exclusively of members of the legislative body" -- in other words, a subcommittee. But the Downtown Commission is appointed by the City Council and is not a subcommittee.

When the La Bahia project was being considered, Mayor Mathews held a meeting in the Civic Auditorium to discuss just that item, so maybe that's an example where that part of 54954.3(a) did apply at a subsequent City Council meeting.

Also, Mayor Rotkin has allowed a member of the public to speak for two minutes about an item without pulling it from the consent agenda, and that seems to meet the requirement of 54954.3(a).
by Robert Norse
Monday Jan 17th, 2011 1:03 PM
The Sentinel printed my Op-Ed piece on this subject yesterday. With no comment section.

It can be found at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_17109822 ("Court's decision brings back the First Amendment to Santa Cruz").
by Stop pretending you are one.
Monday Jan 17th, 2011 6:11 PM
Seriously, you denigrate the profession when you pretened to be one.

Look at just the latest cases, both in the last week:

-You claim that TBSC is destroying homeless camps. But your only evidence is third hand from an anonymous source passed on to you by Steve. Then Steve says he never said that.

-You contend here that Santa Cruz is the only city with a time limit for public comment. "The only city in the state to do this?" . And then you admit that you did no research other than calling a few cities three years ago AND DEPENDING ON THE PERSON YOUR LAMBASTING TO TAKE THE TIME TO CONTACT YOU AND CONFIRM OR DENY THAT?


You are not a reporter. You lie, you misreport regularly, you never research your answers. You report second hand information from drunks and drugged out buffooons who later change their stories (Donna Deiss ring a bell?), and then all you do in reply is throw up your hands and say "Well, I reported what I was told".

Report this on your next broadcast Robert: "I, Robert Norse, am a hack. A schill. I report stories with no credible information, as long as the second hand news I'm reporting meets the criteria of supporting my agenda." I have a long track record of misreporting rumor as fact. You're advised to check other sources for accuracy, or at least check back with me in a week or two when I will have retracted my report and once again admitted it has no basis in truth."

Seriously. Pitiful.

by Robert Norse
Tuesday Jan 18th, 2011 7:26 PM
The City Clerk's office from Seaside called back today and advised me that they like Monterey and San Jose City Councils specifically authorize members of the public to remove individual Consent Agenda items from the agenda for discussion and vote without getting "the permission" of City Council members, as Coonerty has mandated here in Santa Cruz. Joyce of Seaside also advised me that folks there, in that City of 35,000 get 3 minutes on regular items, consent agenda items, and oral communications presentations (for items not on the agenda). Further, Oral Communications comes near the beginning of the meeting. It lasts as long as there are speakers, not for a limited period.

I did say that no other cities in the state that I knew of have adopted Coonerty's repressive rules. It's true Fresno does, and probably the other small conservative areas mentioned do as well. But our neighboring cities do not--at least the ones I've researched.

And more to the point, why would anyone want to have less public comment time--except out of persona rancor or some kind of political loyalty to Coonerty? Other than a desire to shut down dissident speakers? Which violates both the First Amendment and the Brown Act.
by Midsum III
Tuesday Jan 18th, 2011 8:43 PM
That's awesome, Norse. Perhaps, instead of limiting yourself to Santa Cruz, you should spread your wings a bit and head over to City Council meetings in Seaside, Monterey and San Jose for a spell. I imagine after a couple of years of dealing with you attending meetings commando in your bathrobe, and flashing Sieg Heil salutes at the councilmembers, you could get them to change their rules too, to cut all public comment off at the half-minute mark.

Thanks for the help there, bud.
by Cyrus
Wednesday Jan 19th, 2011 5:50 AM
Robert, have you ever thought that perhaps the reason SC has initiated time limits on public comment is your decades-long abuse of that option to rant for three minutes at every single opportunity you had at every single council meeting (slight hyperbole, but not by much). And that most of that ranting was hardly germane to whatever the item was (let's face it- you can take a thread about anarchism and immediately turn that into your usual rhetoric, as we see here, and you've done it for pretty much every item you possibly could).

Have you ever been to a council meeting in any other city than Santa Cruz in the area? They aren't filled with the REGULAR, NON-CITIZEN self-styled "gadflies" like you who seem to think they're doing something positive by soaking up as much air time as possible. That's why they don't need to put any restrictions on open comments-- because they don't have individuals like yourself to abuse this.

But, once again, the cycle continues: you create a problem where none existed; the city (or TBSC, the DTA, or whatever evil conglomerate you have chosen to denigrate) responds; you claim Gestapo tactics and a fascist state; eyes are rolled, rules changed to try to get you to shut the hell up finally; you have no job, family, or reason to exist other than ego gratification so you find the next target; cycle begins again; rinse, repeat, the causes you claim to support never advance and in fact retreat, but you don't seem to care about that.
by The Beast from the East
Wednesday Jan 19th, 2011 7:01 AM
Robert, here you are crying foul about bullying, because the City and it's residents won't let YOU bully THEM!!!

You howl endlessly about your First Amendment rights to dissent, yet you censor anyone who won't comply with your screwball crusade to impose your crackpot delusions on the rest of us.
by Craig
Wednesday Jan 19th, 2011 9:11 AM
Norse: "But our neighboring cities do not--at least the ones I've researched."

I like the part where you say "--at least the ones I've researched". An automatic disclaimer helps sometimes.

The City of Palo Alto. The exact same distance from Santa Cruz as Monterey. Not only does a member of the public have to request from a council member that a consent agenda item be pulled prior to a city council meeting, TWO council members have to agree to pull the item in order to make the request of the council. TWO.

City of Saratoga, just over the hill, states that only the mayor or a city council member can remove an item from the consent agenda.

City of Cupertino, also just over the hill, states that only the mayor or a city council member can remove an item from the consent agenda.

And let's remember, Robert, it was YOU that brought up the whole thing about it being a statewide issue. Then upon being called out on the facts you moved the goalpost to fit your needs. Now you're criteria are being called out again.

This is just like when BECKY said that no major city in the entire USA had less of a homeless issue than that of Santa Cruz. When she was soundly refuted on that statement with actual verified facts and data she went totally silent for a few days. Only to pop up later and say the same comment of no other community near us. Then when that statement was soundly refuted with verified facts and data she stopped engaging in the conversation.

by Hank
Wednesday Jan 19th, 2011 11:50 AM
I'm a little confused about something regarding the time people are allowed to speak to the council. Robert is implying that the council has cut back the amount of time individuals are allowed to speak in order to silence activists. He says " These punish activists, segregates them from the public generally, and makes it difficult for them to speak on other agenda items and for the public to hear them." As I understand it, individuals are allowed two minutes to speak. If you sit down and start a stopwatch two minutes is a rather long amount of time. But "organizations" are given five minutes to speak when requested. I've been to quite a few council meetings where Robert has requested of the council that he be given the five minutes because he is a member of the activist group HUFF. From what I remember he has always been given the extra time. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure he's been given more time. So if the theory is that this is a maneuver to cut out comments by "activists', then why do they regularly offer more time to an "activist"? Robert says that activists are segregated from the general public, but it's actually to his benefit. He's getting more time to speak than the general public.

Another comment is that the majority of people who get up and speak at council meetings are simply unprepared. I've sat there and listened to people ramble on and on without really getting to their point. Then they act all disappointed that they didn't get their point across. Some people come with their thoughts written down, or have a quick list to refer to. But some people get up there and are scattered, even incomprehensible. As I said, two minutes is a lot of time. Especially for people that are prepared. Maybe the idea is to set a time limit so that people can get up to the podium and make their point, which allows more people the opportunity to speak.

I've also sat there and listened to people put down and insult the council on numerous occasions without a bad response from council members. Mike Tomasi is an excellent example of that. Pretty much every time there is a meeting he gets up there and insults someone. Especially Coonerty. And he is always allowed to do it as long as he does it respectfully and without abusive language. And if I'm not mistaken wasn't it a current council member who has been the recipient of Mike's negative comments that helped Mike get into a long term housing situation? If the point being made by Robert is that the council is being abusive towards people who speak to them unkindly, then why would they turn around and find this guy housing and make his life better?
by Robert Norse
Monday Jan 24th, 2011 10:50 PM
Thanks to Craig for his research on Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Saratoga. I think Santa Cruz is moving in the wrong direction when it restricts public access to the agenda—particularly the important consent agenda. I hope activists in those cities object as strongly as I do here in Santa Cruz.

In response to Hank:
Coonerty cut back time from 5 minutes for a group to 4 minutes, and from 3 minutes for an individual speaker to 2 minutes. I've rarely requested 5 minutes to speak for HUFF; it doesn't happen more than two or three times a year.
Activists are penalized not only by the new ghetto 5:30 PM segregated time period, but by the illegal policy of requiring speakers who have spoken the previous meeting to go to the end of the line (violates the Brown Act).
Members of the public don't need to be boxed in and pressured when they go to the mike; it's hard enough for most people to get up there. Particularly if you're making remarks that are critical of the Council. Considering the length of time Council members go on and allow staff to go on, the public has a pitiably short amount of time to comment.
Mike Tomasi is, I feel, appreciated by the Council as kind of “court clown”--an excuse for the increasing cutbacks in public comment time and agenda access. This is not to say that after his usual repetitive recitation of introductory titles (“King of Marijuana” etc.) he doesn't have some significant things to say from the position of a formerly homeless or street person.
by Bruce Holloway
Tuesday Jan 25th, 2011 12:58 PM
"...the illegal policy of requiring speakers who have spoken the previous meeting to go to the end of the line (violates the Brown Act)."


Under section 54960(a), you can sue for an injunction if the city violates the Brown Act and under section 54960.5, you can recover court costs and attorney fees from the city.

But I don't think their policy is illegal, since section 54954.3(b) allows "reasonable regulations...limiting the total time allocated for public testimony" and their rule that "Priority will be given to individuals who did not speak at the previous Oral Communications" seems reasonable in light of their 30-minute total time limit.
by The Beast from the East
Tuesday Jan 25th, 2011 3:42 PM
But Robert, everyone else(except BJ) considers YOU to be the "Court Clown"

You just aren't smart enough to recognise it.
by Robert Norse
Friday Jun 10th, 2011 10:21 AM
Filing legal action against the City Council is (as you've surely seen in the case going to the Supreme Court) time consuming and expensive.

A First Amendment Coalition worker advised me several years ago that this "first come, first serve" policy is clearly something to penalize regular speakers (who are likely activists and/or whistleblowers). Hence, I belive, it is actually a disguised content-based restriction on comment. In theory it could allow the Council to limit to once a month, comment from activists they don't want to hear from (by arranging for a line of speakers sympathetic to their views). Admittedly this has never been done to my knowledge.

It's also not done at any other City Council meeting I know of in the state. Do you know of any where it is the practice other than Santa Cruz?

I appreciate your adding content as well as style to this discussion.