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Brown Act Demand to Mayor Don Lane
Mayor Lane--in the most blatant selective cancellation of Oral Communications yet at City Council--denied myself and several other speakers public speaking time at the close of the January 24th Council meeting. The agenda scheduled that public comment period (the only one where the public is allowed to comment on items not on the very restrictive agenda) for the end of the afternoon session. As described in the letter below, Lane adjourned the meeting rather than allow us to speak. Nor has he suggested he will modify this procedure in future meetings.
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
While it is foolish to believe that speaking to the Council generally has any meaningful impact on their votes (even if numbers of people speak), it is still important in my view to insist on the right to do so. Also since the proceedings are televised, one is also speaking to the community. This reality sometimes constrains Council members to explain their actions.
On January 24, the date of Lane's shutdown of Oral Communications, Occupy Santa Cruz held its first General Assembly outside at City Hall.
Some of us anticipated a protest against the December 8th attack on the homeless encampment in San Lorenzo Park that displaced 100-200 people and destroyed much homeless survival gear and property. Lane and the City Council supported that attack, which was followed by the closure of City offices and a massive police presence in riot gear when some of us tried to visit city officials.
Lane further took no action to stop the City's posting of "No Parking at Any Time" signs to deter Occupy Santa Cruz on Water St. throughout December. Nor has he taken action to hold police officials responsible for the destruction of homeless property and the continued assaults on homeless survival (tent slashing, tickets, move-along demands) in the Pogonip and on the Levee (where many homeless people have fled after the December 8th police attack).
Due in part to some strident dissension in Occupy Santa Cruz and in part to hurried and insufficient preparation, the January 24th protest was derailed. Some Occupy Santa Cruz members wrongly believed that the protest would alienate People Power allies (which Micah Posner assured me it would not); they spread sufficient fear and concern on the internet such that the protest was effectively dismantled by discouraging OSC members from attending.
The issues involved in the proposed protest were described in the article "Beyond City Hall" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/01/23/18705498.php where a flyer covers the subject. HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activists will continue to raise these issues and are now tabling at the Homeless (Lack of) Services) Center to get more direct input from homeless folks. (See "Courthouse Steps Now Free Speech-Free at Night; SCPD Threats Downtown; Offices Close" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/12/09/18702196.php & "Police Raid and Destroy Occupy Santa Cruz Encampment in San Lorenzo Park" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/12/08/18702101.php).
Mayor Lane's behavior towards those of us who tried to speak at City Hall mirrors the growing civil liberties crackdown against Occupy Santa Cruz and the homeless community as well as the increasingly arbitrary and restrictive procedures at City Council.
This letter to Lane demanding he "redo" Oral Communications (by providing double time at the 2-14 Council session) is likely to be ignored--further exposing his and City Council's lack of interest in democratic and accessible process. In theory the next step in this bureaucratic process is to file a lawsuit and/or make a grand jury complaint.
A more direct response in keeping with the tradition and character of Occupy Santa Cruz would be a march to Lane's office to demand answers.
A prior march to the City Council offices took place in mid-November confronting him and City Manager Martin Bernal with public outrage over their bogus "permit"--the City's first attempt to shut down the San Lorenzo Campground (See "City Manager and Vice-Mayor Stonewall OSC Activists" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/11/08/18698276.php). See also the General Assembly's response at http://occupysantacruz.org/2011/11/06/response-to-citys-unsolicited-permit/ .
With the weather turning (somewhat) warmer and drier, it's possible Occupy Santa Cruz may begin growing again. If so, such mass marches (such as one that was held today up Pacific Avenue opposing the police crackdown against Occupy D.C. and Occupy Oakland) may become more frequent.
LETTER TO MAYOR DON LANE
309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
February 5, 2012
Don Lane, Mayor of Santa Cruz
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
During the last Council meeting a number of us arrived, per your agenda announcement about when Oral Communications was scheduled to take place, to be present at the end of the afternoon agenda. This was around 5:45 PM. You declined to take our Oral Communication. You stated instead that at "your discretion" you had moved Oral Communications to an hour earlier at 5 PM or sometime around there without prior 72-hour announcement, as required by the Brown Act, before the meeting had ended.
Your closure of the meeting cut off several speakers who had come specifically to speak to the community and the Council. We were visibly waiting in line.
This clearly violates the spirit if not the letter of the law (Brown Act 5.4954.3a), which requires you to have a period of time accessible to the public when they can speak on subjects not on the agenda. If you can move this time about at your discretion, it clearly imposes an unreasonable burden on anyone trying to speak as well as those who want ot hear Oral Communications.
Additionally this seems to violate the requirement (Brown Act 5.4954.2a) that items be listed 72 hours in advance in a manner that allows the public to know what is on the agenda and--more or less--when they need to be there to speak on those items.
Please restore the time certain for Oral Communications at the beginning of the Council session, which allows the public. This was traditionally the case at the beginning of the evening session at 7 PM--the most accessible time for most people who work.
I would also request you restore an additional period at the beginning of the afternoon for those who can't be there in the evening. This would particularly impact homeless people, those few who can actually get into the token shelter services, who must be inside the Armory at night to use those services.
Given the Brown Act violations of the 1-24 session, will you be providing double time for those who were unable to speak during a time-certain Oral Communications period at the 2-14 City Council meeting? This seems only fair and would serve to compensate in some measure for the abusive and selective cut-off of public comment on 1-14. Since you knew me and the Council had been previously informed of a public protest being held, I also suggest that your action was or could be views as content-based and violated Section 54954.3 (c) of the Brown Act.
Finally, please also advise how much time will be allowed for speakers and groups and whether you will regularly allow members of the public to speak on specific items on the Consent agenda as is the case in most other California cities without begging particular permission and requiring action from specific City Council members.
As you know, past City Councils have burdened the present one with a costly and time-consuming lawsuit involving censorship of public opinion due to to go trial this spring. It would be helpful to see you and the present Council moving in a positive direction expanding public comment and public accessibility.
Here is Don's prompt courteous unresponsive response:
From: dlane [at] cityofsantacruz.com
To: rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com
Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2012 16:18:03 -0800
Subject: RE: Brown Act Demand to Restore Time Taken from the Public on 1-24
Thank you for writing.
It is my view that you are in error in your interpretation of the Brown Act.
I also think you and I have a different take on Oral Communications. I believe public comment on regular agenda items is at least as important as oral communications on topics not on the council agenda. Homeless people, working people and homeless working people (and everyone in the community) need reasonably accessible and understandable times to address the council on ALL the different items on the agenda, not just oral communication items.
I explained my approach to you during a radio interview… and my approach is written down on the agenda every week for you and all the world to read. It is unfortunate that you did not take in this information during these opportunities. It is also unfortunate that you would blame me for your missing this information. I know it makes for great theater but I don’t find it persuasive.
I will not be providing any “extra time” for oral communications this coming week. As you know, I have been generally allowing 3 minutes for oral communications and public comment on agenda items, when there isn’t a huge number of people waiting to speak. I expect to continue that practice.
I also intend to continue the current procedure on consent agenda items. It seems to be working well…and still seems to cause many items to be successfully pulled from the consent agenda. I would also note that, if you are finding that this procedure does not allow enough speaking time for you, you are always welcome to submit comments in writing before and during the council meeting.
Thanks again for writing.
City of Santa Cruz
From: rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com
To: dlane [at] cityofsantacruz.com
Subject: RE: Brown Act Demand to Restore Time Taken from the Public on 1-24
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 2012 14:47:25 -0800
Thanks for your prompt response.
I've posted your response to my Brown Act demand on indybay.org at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/02/05/18706677.php and on the facebook page of Occupy Santa Cruz.
I have a few additional questions--actually just clarifying ones since you didn't fully respond to them in your letter.
Just so I'm clear on this: are you stating that it will be your practice to put Oral Communications anywhere during the afternoon session you choose without any prior 72-hour notice other than stating it is at your discretion? And announcing this only at the time you make this decision during the meeting? I think this is a fair question for those who have any interest in addressing City Council on items not on the agenda.
Will you be providing five minutes for group presentations? Will this traditionally be done as it was pre-Coonerty without requiring five people to stand up and say they are members of the group in question and will not be speaking?
Any additional time period at the beginning of the afternoon session to be allotted for people (like those in the homeless community who are not permitted to be at the meeting since they'd be lining up for the Armory Winter Shelter)?
No restoration of the traditional 7 PM Oral Communications period in the evening?
Thanks in advance for your speed in addressing these issues (which were previously raised, after all). I'm also hoping you'll respond to my letter following up on the other matters you agreed to address on Free Radio and at the Occupy Santa Cruz Monday afternoon meetings.