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Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban Struggle (for Street Spirit newspaper)
by Tim Rumford (posted by Robert Norse)
Friday Nov 30th, 2007 8:31 PM
The December issue of the S.F. Bay Area homeless monthly newspaper will include the following story on the Sleeping Ban, championed by Mayor Ryan Coonerty. Street Spirit is available through HUFF (423-4833) as well as in the Main Branch of the city library.
The Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban is a local law that defines sleeping at night as “camping” and prescribes a $97 fine for falling asleep outside a house or hotel within City limits. Using one’s vehicle as housing is illegal, even though the city provides no alternatives. The County has been out of compliance with its affordable housing element for decades. Since there’s shelter space in winter for only 160 of the city’s 1500-2000 homeless residents, the law in effect makes it a crime to be homeless at night, unless you stay awake.

The continued flow of money and consumerism has become more important then human life or the basic rights we are all supposed to equally share in, or so it seems from the perspective of those that run our city. Every time we allow a right to be taken away from any class of people we are destroying our own rights. By allowing the government to make and keep such laws we only open the door for more.

Criminalizing the act of sleeping or any necessity would seem a joke. People have to sleep and will regardless of what law are in place. The problem is telling someone they cannot sleep because they are poor or because they have no house is paramount to having “Black Only” drinking fountains. Sleeping allowed for those with homes; sleeping banned for those without.

Recently in Santa Cruz the Sleeping Ban debate has become heated. After a week-long protest camp out in August, where Homies for the Homeless created a safe zone for 30-40 homeless people at City Hall [see September Street Spirit], the Santa Cruz Police Department and the local newspaper, the Sentinel vilified the protesters--though the only tickets issued were for sleeping.

In subsequent stories--the Sentinel highlighted graffitists who painted “Fuck the Sleeping Ban” on City Hall. In their on-line forum subsequently, the bigots that rule over the Sentinel forums offered up solutions from lining up the homeless to be shot, pesticiding them, and returning to the “troll busting 80’s”. As Bob Patton of the Human Rights Organization wrote in response, “The South will not rise again.”

Protesters have continued Sunday afternoon tabling at the Bookshop Santa Cruz--owned by the Coonerty family where Ryan Coonerty is chief worker. The Coonerty’s do by far have the most power over the shaping of downtown the than any other merchant in a long time.

Chanting and singing homeless Xmas carols, the protesters sport “Banned at the Bookshop” stickers (in response to letters from Coonerty banning them from the bookstore for their “cowardly” protest". They’ve also taken polls on the prevalence of police profiling the poor, urged a boycott of the bookshop, and encouraged homeless people to become plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the Sleeping ban.

Ryan Coonerty, who is becoming Mayor as I write this, has recently participated in a debate over the Sleeping Ban on Community TV Voices from the Village LIVE. You can watch the debate on-line at or at

HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activist Robert Norse was not allowed in the debate, despite his knowledge of the laws, and endless years battling City Council and protesting the Sleeping Ban and other laws that are aimed at the poor. The City would be wise to embrace these people for their knowledge alone. This was evident during the debate.

Coonerty refused to debate if Norse was part of the panel. Norse explained subsequently that he hid behind a curtain (“to avoid scaring Ryan away”). When the host called for audience questions, Norse emerged to challenge Coonerty to allow safe sleeping zones and the right to sleep not anywhere-and-everywhere, but somewhere.

Vice mayor Coonerty came across as a representative of business. His lack of knowledge concerning the ordinance, fines, available shelter and financing astounds me. He states they do not take State and Federal funds. This is untrue. The Walk in Shelter is not permitted to allow Medicinal Marijuana patients because of the federal money they receive. Craig Canada is banned from the shelter for just this reason [see Street Spirit August 2007]

Coonerty did not even know the cost of a Sleeping Ban ticket quoting 60.00 dollars when in reality it is $97.00 dollars. Regardless the reason for his ignorance, it shows a tremendous lack of concern for the impoverished in Santa Cruz. This also became evident at a subsequent Sustainable Living Community TV discussion, where his stances on the issues were said to be a "path to a City that caterers only to the elite" by some in the panel.

Throughout the years the City Council has ignored public commentary regarding this subject and continued passing laws aimed at the homeless. Recently the Council passed a law championed by Coonerty banning the public from public parking lots except to park a vehicle or walk directly through; the target: homeless people and “undesirables”. Santa Cruz’s Food Not Bombs will not be able to legally serve food in the parking lot where it has done so for the last decade.

For years 4 SAFE (Society for Artistic Freedom and Expression/ Street performers Against Foolish Enforcement) has held weekly musical munch-in’s on the sidewalk on Santa Cruz’ downtown Pacific Avenue. Last week SCPD moved to use noise ordinances to order people along.

Santa Cruz is now among the top 15 Cities with the worst laws in the country penalizing poverty according to the National Coalition to end Homelessness. Sleep-crime ticketing is up 50% from last year. In the nearby wilderness areas, City Ranger John Wallace’s beefed-up forces harass and cite campers and regularly destroy the property of homeless people in violation of the 4th Amendment (and the Federal Court’s recent Kincaid decision in Fresno).

Downtown authorities resort to primitive social engineering “solutions” like removing benches where poor and street people gather from the main street, putting in change-making machines (which create a 100’ no sitting/no panhandling zone around them), and increasing the terror component of police actions (four police officers surrounded a cowering homeless man in front of the outdoor restaurant Kianti’s recently, for sitting off to the side on the sidewalk.

A deepening pattern of anti-homeless police behavior is emerging. Craig Canada, recently assaulted by a Pizza My Heart patron after Canada bought a slice of pizza and tried to use the bathroom, found himself taken to jail and charged with battery. Donna Deiss, of the vehicle dwellers group, LIVE (Living in Vehicles Excellently) is facing citations for refusing to move her vehicle from a beach side parking lot, restricted to eliminate homeless RVs. Shane Maxfield, Deiss’s former partner is an AIDS-disabled man, who faced a court trial for sitting with his bunny Fluffy on the sidewalk in front of the Pacific Cookie Company.

Sleep--as any fool knows--is a human necessity--hence a human right. SCMC 6.36.010b, known as the "blanket ban", makes it illegal to set-up any bedding, even just having a blanket covering you on a park bench, between the same hours, 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m.

In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took on the Jones case which ended recently in a settlement. The Jones settlement was controversial in some quarters since it was reportedly done without the permission of the plaintiffs or input from homeless advocacy groups. The Jones settlement enjoined police from arresting homeless people from sleeping on the sidewalk from 9 PM to 6 AM, provided sleepers were 10’ away from businesses and until the City built 1250 units of supportive housing.

In Santa Cruz, the local ACLU sat on its hands for decades when approached about Sleeping Ban human rights violations. Even after the Jones precedent from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals came down in April 2006, the Santa Cruz ACLU expressed no interest in either initiating a lawsuit or supporting one being prepared by local activists.

When Norse and Bernard Klitzner of the Human Rights Organization came to a public meeting of the ACLU with a sign urging the ACLU to end the Sleeping Ban, Board of Directors member Mike Rotkin called the police to have them banned. Ironically, the police declined to do so, even though Rotkin was also a former mayor and sitting Council member (and an avid supporter of the Sleeping Ban). Coonerty himself claims to be a “constitutional lawyer” who teaches classes at nearby colleges. For details of the ACLU fiasco see

Activists are pressing on with a lawsuit to ban police ticketing of the homeless for the “crime” of sleeping. They face new hurdles. The Jones Decision’ which found it Cruel and unusual punishment to cite someone for sleeping if adequate shelter was not available, can no longer be cited as precedent, due to the precipitous ACLU settlement there mentioned above which vacated and de-published the decision.

Despite this, San Diego has ordered police to stop busting the homeless for sleeping at night; Richmond changed its law to stop ticketing if there is no shelter space; Fresno, under pressure from activists and attorneys, faces a full-scale class-action trial next summer for destroying homeless property. Sacramento has begun its own lawsuit against its Sleeping Ban. Santa Cruz human rights supporters have plenty of company.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by pict
Saturday Dec 1st, 2007 7:45 AM
by (posted by) Robert Norse
Saturday Dec 1st, 2007 1:04 PM
Mayor Coonerty received a copy of the article and sent us the following reply this morning:

"RE: [BULK] Heading Into Winter: The Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban‏
From: Ryan Coonerty (RCoonerty [at]
Sent: Sat 12/01/07 9:34 AM
To: Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at]; HUFF yahoo groups (huffsantacruz [at]
Cc: grant wilson ... Mark ...

As of Dec. 24, I will no longer be an employee of Bookshop Santa Cruz. I will no longer receive any salary, nor do or will I have an ownership interest.

You and Huff can decide whether your protests still make sense. I can say that Bookshop's sales have increased every Sunday over Sundays last year, in part because of your efforts.

As someone who is interested in public policy, I would recommend however that you spend your time demonstrating that you have the political skills and legitimacy to make change. You could challenge the ban in court, put an initiative on the ballot, and/or move into the city and run for city council to advance your cause. My guess however is that it is much easier to try to blackmail me through targeting family members and spouting empty rhetoric.

All the best,

Ryan Coonerty
City of Santa Cruz"

by (posted by) Robert Norse
Saturday Dec 1st, 2007 1:13 PM
Earlier dialogue with Mayor Coonerty and his father Supervisor Coonerty (the Bookshop owner):

Sleeping Ban Debate – Broadcasted on Community TV. Voices of the Village

Vice-Mayor Bans Activists from Bookshop Santa Cruz

Potty Talk .
by (posted by) Robert Norse
Saturday Dec 1st, 2007 1:19 PM
Ryan Coonerty's Most Recent Comments--More Dialogue on the Bookshop Boycott

The "Boycott Bigotry" campaign in front of Coonerty's Bookstore has been going on each Sunday at 2 PM. Folks are invited to join us, or express their concerns to the Mayor directly (420-5020).

For past stories, search for "Coonerty" and "Sleeping Ban" on this site.
by Robert Norse
Sunday Dec 2nd, 2007 9:34 PM
This morning I sent off the following response to Mayor Coonerty:


Thanks for your quick response to Tim Rumford’s article.

I’d like to meet with you in the next week for 15 minutes to half an hour. When would that be convenient? As with Mayors Mathews, Rotkin, and Reilly, I’ll be taping our discussion for public broadcast on Free Radio Santa Cruz.

Please advise me of your procedure for scheduling meetings with members of the public, so I can pass on that information to interested folks.

HUFF will consider your thoughts at its next meeting. Our meetings are public and you are invited to attend. (Wednesday, 9:30 AM -11:30 AM in the American Cafe, the cafeteria in the basement of the County Building at 701 Ocean St.).

I don't need to remind you that cold winter weather is upon us. There is space for at most 160 people in the walk-in emergency shelter program (including the Armory). If you don't believe me, contact Ken Cole or Paul Brindel to confirm these figures.

Several nights ago police and/or rangers issued 17 tickets in one spot alone on the wharf, according to a working homeless man who got one of them. They were trying to sleep on the beach in a sheltered area.

Even if one believes the figures cited in your mayoral speech at City Hall Tuesday (which do not match homeless census figures taken over the last decade), 3/4 of the homeless folks sleep outside and face criminalization.

This issue needs leadership and action before the Council recesses for the winter. This is your opportunity to show it.


Robert Norse

RYAN COONERTY WRITES: "...blackmail me through targeting family members..."

BECKY: Actually we were using our free speech inside a "Free Speech Zone" which Ryan's aunt Sheila had helped vote in as part of the Downtown Commission. The "Move-along" law makes political tables and street artists "move along" at least 100 feet every hour or risk a $162 ticket, its own violation of freedom of speech. It is enforced by police, and does not even require a complaint!! Since that meant the WILPF table would be moved along, to placate the large group of feisty senior women, the Commission recommended a "free speech zone" where the table was exempt from the move-along law.

The tactic worked. WILPF didn't protest the truncation of 1st amendment rights in their own backyard, and the law was passed. HUFF was simply setting up our table for lobbying and educating members of the public regarding then Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty re: repressive policies towards homeless citizens. We utilized the exemption to hold a 1 and a half to two hour protest once a week in the Free Speech Zone.

This is what Ryan Coonerty calls "blackmail" and "targeting" his "family members."
Note that Ryan has not said that anything we are saying is untrue.
by Tim Rumford
(sleepisaright [at] Monday Dec 24th, 2007 2:11 PM
This is a highlight from Robert Norse's Free Radio Santa Cruz show - BathrobesPierre's Broadsides from Dec 16th. Highlights of the Sleeping Ban Debate with Robert's commentary. It gives an interesting perspective and shows the errors given by our new mayor on laws, social services, and the policing of the homeless. His ignorance of these laws, fines, etc. show a deep lack of concern for the impoverished in our City.

The Clip is over an hour but is small in file size, saved in FM quality. Approx. 5.6 megs.
by Posted by Tim Rumford
(sleepisaright [at] Monday Dec 24th, 2007 6:05 PM
This is the latest letter that Robert Norse has spoken about in length. I have been present at 1/4 of the protests in front of Book Shop Santa Cruz, and dozens of others. I have co-hosted on his show and worked on the issue of the Sleeping Ban.

I have never ever seen Robert do anything resembling the accusations made in this letter.

Most important to me is the issues ( the rights of the poor) stay in the public eye, as long as it takes. In MY OPINION this letter is meant as a petty attempt to make Robert stop and bring us off topic. I would think Ryan smarter then that. Show us the proof Ryan.

Robert uses facts, states laws, and does everything legal by the laws the City Council has made. You may not like it, welcome to politics. You are a public figure and now our mayor. I think you owe Robert and all of us working on this issue proof of everything you say in this letter. The who's, whens hows and whats. By law, you have ten days to respond to Roberts last request as I understand it.

Here is the letter posted as a picture to show it is as it was sent. Hopefully it will post at full size.

Robert, like the way he does things or not has always been careful to be honest, and give credit where its do. Like keeping the bathrooms open at the Bookshop etc.
by JD
Monday Dec 24th, 2007 6:26 PM
How could Robert harass staff if he has been banned for the last 10 odd years and has not stepped a foot in the store? Also this letter is very vague, and although I know little of the law, I would think illegal unless Ryan comes forth with hard factual evidence.

I don't always agree with the way Robert does things. But, he has kept this issue in the lime light for decades. That may seem unimportant to some folks. From my perspective its very important. Its also apparent that the debate and commentary is getting to the talking heads. (City Council) and are doing things out of desperation, like they even know what true desperation feels like. Ryan looks as though the silver spoon is still stuck to his mouth. That was a jab, and as a citizen, not and activist, I can say whatever I want about our mayor or any public figure short of verbally threating them. The talking heads will keep on talking, and Robert and others will keep on doing what they do. I know Tim does allot of humanitarian work he never writes about, even when accused of not doing these things. The other day he gave a jacket to a freezing friend that was a VERY nice jacket. He walked the Mall giving them out. I know he used to serve a huge meal every Monday. I hear its now on Tuesday and partially supported by his org, and the rest from the homeless and poor as well. Many people do allot of great things the newspaper never covers. If we all did just a little, we could conquer our cities problems.

But first lets have 14 City Council meetings where we all wait to speak and never be heard by the talking heads climbing their political ladders.
Councilmember Ryan Coonerty volunteered to be the point person on the council for homeless issues. Now he is mayor, too.

He thinks the sleeping ban starts at dusk.
He thinks the fine is $60.
He thinks the Homeless Service Officer "connects people with services"
He thinks the Hosts are there to help homeless people
He thinks that if 5% of the people have shelter he can arrest the rest for sleeping at night
He thinks that to house the other 95% would be an astronomical impossibility
He thinks there are 30 - 60 tickets issued each month.
He thinks that tickets are dismissed "when the shelters are full"
He thinks he is a "part-time worker at Bookshop Santa Cruz"
He thinks freedom of speech is "harassment"
He thinks gathering signatures on a petition is "cowardly"
He thinks handing out flyers is "harassment"
He thinks that "less speech is better speech"
He thinks an e-mail criticizing City policy towards homelessness equals vandalizing a bathroom
He thinks those who disagree with him should "sue the City"

Congratulations Santa Cruz!! Look who you elected. A Know-nothing.
Next thing he will be telling us is that the Sleeping Ban is good for homeless people!
by I voted Coonerty
Monday Dec 31st, 2007 11:27 AM
My only regret is that he has to waste any of his time that could be spent managing the city on issues surrounding you and robert.
by dm
Friday Jan 4th, 2008 8:04 AM
Becky Johnson is a fascinating specimen.

She thinks the people of Santa Cruz must give all homeless people houses.
She thinks that a negligibly-enforced ban on camping on city sidewalks is a sleeping ban.
She thinks Downtown Hosts have nothing else to do besides make transients feel comfortable while they panhandle.
She thinks carrying a camera around and harassing merchants and city officials is the same as having a job.
She thinks she is a civil rights activist.
She thinks parking lots must be unregulated open space for heroin addicts from Portland.
She thinks that what the Mayor does at his family enterprise is any of her business.
She thinks it's an insult to the public to expect them use the public restrooms.

I'll take Ryan, thanks.