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Public Space for Public Use!
by Becky Johnson (becky_johnson222 [at]
Sunday Oct 7th, 2007 2:05 PM
On Tuesday, October 9th, at 7PM, the Santa Cruz City Council will consider making it illegal to remain in any surface parking lot in the City longer than 15 minutes or be cited for tresspassing. In item #20, on the evening agenda (originally placed on the consent agenda then removed without explanation), the City will consider taking 5 city blocks worth of public space out of public use, for our own safety!! Not only does this criminalize previously innocent behavior, Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty says its "okay" because a parking lot "is not a public forum."
"City Council is not a public forum. Public comment is to provoke thoughtful debate. Having meetings drag on primarily as the result of 3 minute testimonies (delays) when we make our decisions. (This ordinance) will create a more democratic procedure that will lead to better public policy and better speech."

--Santa Cruz Councilmember Ryan Coonerty 3/22/05 commenting on rule changes that limit public comment from 3 minutes per item to 5 minutes total on consent agenda items

Public Space for Public Use!
Becky Johnson
October 7, 2007

Santa Cruz, CA. --- The Santa Cruz City Council is considering banning all members of the public from remaining in any City parking lot longer than 15 minutes or be cited for tresspassing. This will remove 5 city blocks of public space from public use. Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty has claimed this is reasonable because "parking lots are not a public forum."

Since 1st amendment rights are not magically curtailed when a member of the public enters a public parking lot, I was mystified by Coonerty's comment. Then I remembered Ryan's comments from 2005 which curtailed the time allowed for public comment on any item the Mayor had placed on the consent agenda. Coonerty voted for the cutback in public comment time. His reasoning? Less speech = better speech. And, that the City Council meetings themselves are "not a public forum."

What do they call that public podium in the center of the council chambers where the City Clerk notes the names of those members of the public who speak there and whether they are in favor or against a certain measure? But then Ryan Coonerty is not only a part-time cashier at a so-called "progressive" family-owned downtown bookstore, but an attorney who teaches constitutional law at Cabrillo College. Does Ryan Coonerty even know what a "Public Forum" is?

Back to the parking lot limitation law being considered at the upcoming City Council meeting on October 9th. Here it is our 4th amendment rights that are being assailed.

The 4th amendment right grants that persons shall be free "in their persons and effects" from warrantless searches. What the parking lot tresspass ordinance does is to bypass 4th amendment protections by declaring this a new "crime" of tresspassing in a public place while engaging in no other crime allowing police probable cause to detain, run warrant checks, search, and intimidate any person they find located in that parking lot that they don't like. HUFF is concerned that such an ordinance is likely to be selectively enforced by the SCPD against poor and homeless people.

Finally, I urge readers to balance all statistics against the oft-reported 66,000 "calls for service" the SCPD reports annually or out of 99,000 in the time period in which these stats were collected. Less than 500 "calls for service" that may, in fact be self-generated by the police, is hardly a crime wave justifying removing 5 City blocks of publicly used space a no-tresspass zone. The statistics presented do not prove the need for this law. Innocent behavior will be punished needlessly.

This tuna net will catch more dolphins, than tuna, and is not justified given its encroachment on 1st and 4th amendment rights.

--- Becky Johnson is a member of HUFF
Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom
Santa Cruz' oldest civil rights organization for poor and homeless people