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Another Letter to Santa Cruz Vice-Mayor Coonerty about the City's Sleeping Ban
by HUFF Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom
Monday Jan 22nd, 2007 9:23 PM
In continuing correspondence with attorney, bookseller, and vice-mayor Ryan Coonerty, HUFF and three other homeless civil rights organization sent the following letter to him, asking for clarification of his support for the City's MC 6.36.010a, banning homeless outdoor and vehicular sleeping from 11 PM to 8:30 AM.
to: Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty
re: continued enforcement of MC 6.36.010 sections "a" and "b"

January 21, 2007

Dear Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty,

Thank-you for your reply to HUFF's last letter to you in which you wrote:

"In regard to the recent 9th Circuit decision, it is my personal belief that the ordinances in Los Angeles were much more broad (no sitting or sleeping at anytime) than our ordinance which has to do with camping."

True. The Los Angeles law criminalized sleeping and camping 24 hours a day. The actual court order, however, grants homeless people the right to sleep and camp at night in the Skid Row Area (since Los Angeles, like Santa Cruz, has totally inadequate emergency shelter facilities). We believe that the current Santa Cruz law would be considered similarly unconstitutional in that it prohibits "night time" sleeping and is enforced in an environment with inadequate shelter.

Last June the City of Richmond changed its camping law. It now contains what we might call the Jones exception to ticketing if no shelter is available. This goes further than our 6.36.055 MC which allows winter tickets to be dismissed after homeless people have been wakened, rousted, cited, and driven away.

This fall, the Los Angeles and San Diego City Attorneys recommended and their Police Chiefs stopped enforcement activities under their sleeping and camping bans, for fear of financial liability under the Jones decision. Why is the more progressive community of Santa Cruz failing to do so as well?

In Santa Cruz we need legal sleeping areas, particularly considering last year's homeless death rate (the highest ever). Where are they? Every ticket issued when such alternatives are not available is unconstitutional under the Jones decision. That decision is currently law and precedent.

While HUFF joins you in advocating for more funding for shelter and social services, we urge the City to redirect existing funds spent on criminalizing and arresting homeless people for sleeping and camping towards services that actually help those people.

Homeless people must not be prevented from legally sheltering themselves if the City is unwilling or unable to provide the facilities.

Homeless people collecting social security often lose benefits when they are jailed for "crimes" as trivial as sitting down, lying down, begging, or sleeping. This only deepens their poverty and despair.

The National Coalition on Homelessness study in August of 2005 determined that each citation issued to a homeless person for nuisance "crimes" like sitting down, sleeping, begging, or camping cost the municipal authority "two to three times the cost of supportive housing."

What exactly distinguishes Santa Cruz law and makes it exempt from civil liability under the Jones decision? We need you to be clear and forthright on this issue.

In 1997 Judge Tom Kelley ruled that because Santa Cruz law allowed homeless people to sleep (but not to erect a protective tent against the rain) between 8 AM and 11:30 PM, the law was constitutional. We think this position is untenable and runs afoul of the Jones decision language which resulted in a standing injunction banning nighttime enforcement of the sleeping ban in Los Angeles.

When would you be available for a discussion of this issue? We would like half an hour to forty-five minute meeting to clarify your position on this issue, as a Councilmember, as Vice-Mayor, and as a teacher and attorney conversant with civil liberties issues.

We would also like to record the meeting for subsequent broadcast, as we have done with previously with Mayors Mathews, Rotkin, and Reilly.

When two activists asked Mayor Reilly for the City Attorney's statement on this issue several days ago, City Manager Dick Wilson informed her that the matter was a "confidential attorney-client" issue. It seems strange that important information for the community is being withheld. In any case, please put on the next City Council agenda an item to secure a vote authorizing the release of the legal rationale for continuing nighttime enforcement of the Sleeping Ban in the absence of adequate shelter, given the standing Jones precedent.

We look forward to your response.

Becky Johnson FOR HUFF
309 Cedar St. PMB 14B
Santa Cruz, Ca. 95060

Tim Runford -- Humanity for Homeless
Bernard Klitzner -- Human Rights Organization
Linda Lemaster -- Housing Now! In Santa Cruz
Matt Marks -- Cabrillo Human Rights Task Force
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
These comments are submitted anonymously by website visitors.
More info on the historic Jones decision(posted by Robert Norse)Friday Jan 26th, 2007 12:15 AM
Further Response from Coonerty and Tabling Tomorrow Outside Bookshop Santa CruzRobert NorseFriday Jan 26th, 2007 12:08 AM
Response to Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty on Jan 23 2007Becky JohnsonThursday Jan 25th, 2007 8:21 PM
Tent City Reduced Violent Crime 90% in Richmond CaliforniaToxic ReverendTuesday Jan 23rd, 2007 6:12 PM
The Vice Mayor RepliesRyan Coonerty (posted by Robert Norse)Tuesday Jan 23rd, 2007 4:32 PM
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