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While Mayor Coonerty Hammers Away at Civil Liberties, the ACLU Awards Him Sunday

by Robert Norse
The local ACLU plans to present Mayor Ryan Coonerty with the 'Hammer of Justice' award Sunday between 3 and 6 PM Aug. 24 in the La Feliz Room of the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Laboratory, 100 Schaffer Road. The Human Rights Organization and HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) hope to educate ACLUskees as to the true nature of Mayor Coonerty's kakocracy and suggest more suitable candidates.
Who's interested in coming to a protest Sunday afternoon around 3 PM? Or in supporting such a protest by making signs ? Contact me at 423-4833 for more info or just show up at 100 Schaffer Rd. at 3 PM Sunday.


Apparently several months ago, the ACLU Board made a quiet decision, apparently not even polling its own membership, to further Mayor Coonerty's fall election campaign with an absurd award--the "Hammer of Justice" Award.

Last year Assemblyman John Laird received the "Hammer of Justice" award for his work on gay civil rights--an action for which there was some basis (though Laird adopted harsh measures to combat homeless civil rights protest when he was Santa Cruz mayor two decades ago in 1988).

The rationale for the ACLU's decision (made by a minority of its members) was unclear but had to something to do with Coonerty's "constitutional law" classes at Cabrillo and UCSC. That Coonerty preaches "constitutional law" while practicing "unconstitutional" lawmaking is the kind of casual hypocrisy that Santa Cruz "progressives" have become famous for.

Some public comment on the ACLU's peculiar "Award the Abuser" decision can be found at


I contacted veteran insider and Civil Liberties Slayer Mike Rotkin himself yesterday by phone in search of an answer to this strange contradiction. Rotkin is both an ACLU Board member and for those watching closely, the shadow mayor of Santa Cruz, still sitting on the Santa Cruz City Council in spite of progressive efforts to retire him. No response yet, but I've invited Mike on Free Radio to defend the Board's decision.

Last year at the ACLU awards ceremony Rotkin's response to criticism of the ACLU was to physically block the critics from entering ("because of their signs") and call the police. They advised Rotkin he couldn't exclude the peaceful public, even with signs. ACLU members were sadly silent as the Rotkin showed the corrupting force of power-over-principle. The police and D.A. did not charge Rotkin with making a false police report (Rotkin suggested the signs urging an end to the sleeping ban were disruptive), but the critics were allowed in.

The signs and petitions we carried urged the ACLU to publicly oppose the Rotkin/Coonerty- backed city Sleeping Ban ordinance. We also urged members to support the court challenge being proposed that year. A year later, of course, they've done nothing further around that issue--apparently ever afraid of offending City Council and conservative westside residents.

Last year's repressive ACLU actions against critics who attended its "public" meeting are chronicled at "Activists ask ACLU to help end sleeping ban""

and "Rotkin Responds to the ACLU Scandal: Signature Hypocrisy of Phoney 'Progressive' Politics" at


Becky Johnson in her brief commentary below outlines some of Coonerty's bad positions and actions.

NOTE TO READERS: Last year, HUFF attended the ACLU awards ceremony only to be refused entry because Robert Norse was carrying a sign. Mike Rotkin called the police and the UCSC police and the SCPD showed up. The UCSC police sgt. informed Rotkin that carrying a sign into a public meeting was a legal activity. HUFF members were then allowed to attend the event and no further incident occurred. This year,this event, to which the ACLU is 'inviting the public' plans to give Mayor Ryan Coonerty an award. No doubt for his cutting public comment at City Council meetings, banning activists from Bookshop Santa Cruz who have been critical of his policies toward homeless people, and for making all downtown parking lots 'no trespass zones.'

Coonerty is also outstandingly bad on a number of other issues:

* an enabler of the SCPD--in its coverup of the political infiltration several years ago of the DIY Last Night peaceful protest and the Council's refusal to provide protections.
* supported a blank check to the Parks and Recreation boss to close down any areas of the city under the P & R jurisdiction (which includes the entire Pogonip, City Hall, the library, pa without a public hearing or an affirmative vote from the P & R Commission.
* refused to release either his public meetings schedule or his appointment book history of meetings with lobbyists as required by the California Sunshine Act.
* helped to cripple the Measure K Committee, created by Initiative last election to oversee the SCPD and ensure that marijuana busts on private property of adults are the lowest property; still hasn't appointed his member, leaving the position vacant.
* arranged through closed door meetings with staff and conservative Council meetings for last year's SCPD crackdown on Pacific Ave and continues to champion further such measures in the upcoming election under the guide of 'quality of life' and 'public safety' labels.
* refuses to meet with or document is personal attacks on critics who publicly confronted him in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz for his anti-homeless position. He declared others were "banned for life" for protesting the Mayor's policies on the sidewalk in front of his bookshop.


The Santa Cruz ACLU itself seems to be beyond redemption. The southern California ACLU chapter actively supported legislation leading to the historic Jones decision overturning the L.A. Sleeping Ban in 2006 and the northern California ACLU chapter actively backed a successful Fresno lawsuit against the seizsure of homeless property there, winning a $2.3 million settlement.

But here in Santa Cruz, the ACLU has refused to publicly oppose the same Sleeping Ban practices that its sister organizations fought in Los Angeles and Fresno, burying the issue in committee time after time.

The national ACLU Drug Policy Project has its headquarters here (above the Tacqueria Vallarta at Cathcart and Pacific), but has taken no action to oppose the Coonerty Council's emasculation of the Measure K law, which the voters passed in 2006, making marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for the SCPD. (See "Measure K Commission Survivor Speaks Out ..." at

On one issue the local ACLU did take a stand--opposing Coonerty's Parking Lots Trespass law, removing 10 solid blocks of downtown space traditionally open to the public from public use and banning public assembly there. (See "Local ACLU Statement on the Parking Lot Panic Law" at ) But now the Board is awarding the Mayor who pushed through the legislation it opposed.


Kate Wells, who is on the ACLU's legal committee, but was not consulted in the ACLU's decision to award Coonerty, will be out of town, but has expressed amazement and outrage at the decision. She wrote the following letter to the Board:

From: Kate Wells
To: board [at] ; legal [at]
Sent: Monday, July 14, 2008 10:57 AM
Subject: Re: [Legal] Chapter Awards

.... Having brought many civil rights lawsuits against the City of Santa Cruz over the years of my practice, I have had the unique opportunity to witness first hand the human rights stances of every mayor and councilmember for the past couple of decades. Ryan Coonerty, in my opinion, has not only not stood up for the principles espoused by the ALCU, but has instituted and supported political and legislative stances that are inimical to the goal of achieving those principles. And such behavior is even more egregious given his status as a civil rights instructor.

As mayor, Mr. Coonerty has actively instituted a policy curtailing the ability of the people to address their elected officials at city council meetings. As a councilmember and mayor, he has shown overwhelming support for anti-homeless legislation including the criminalization of sleep, of covering oneself with a blanket at night, of being able to take cover against the rain in a public parking lot, and even the peaceful act of soliciting funds on the streets of the city.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty have twice in the past decade named the City of Santa Cruz as one of the top 20 "meanest" cities in the United States based on the number of anti-homeless laws in the city, the enforcement of those laws and severity of penalties, the general political climate toward homeless people in the city, the city's history of criminalization measures, and the existence of pending or recently enacted criminalization legislation in the city. I know of no other city in the country that outlaws the mere act of covering oneself with a blanket in public during the night. Ryan Coonerty has supported and defended such draconian laws despite the fact that many homeless people in our city, including a Viet Nam vet in a wheelchair, have died in the night from hypothermia.

In Jones, et al. v. The City of Los Angeles , et al., a suit brought by ACLU attorney Carol Sobel, the Ninth Circuit condemned such anti-homeless practices as cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Said decision was hailed by the ACLU as a great victory for human rights. See the published article at:

I was the attorney for the plaintiff in Maurer v. The City of Santa Cruz, the case referred to by Don in his letter as (d). In that case, I pleaded with the city, prior to filing suit, to voluntarily change a blatantly unconstitutional law regarding panhandling on the streets of Santa Cruz. Instead, the city council, including Ryan Coonerty, decided to defend the clearly indefensible ordinance at all costs - Northern District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel scoffed at the position put forth by the City Attorney and found the law to be in violation of the First Amendment as written and as applied, ordering the City Attorney to rewrite it.

Any first year law student would have known that the ordinance was unconstitutional and yet the City spent nearly $100,000 defending the lawsuit - including paying my fees and damages to the plaintiff. Ryan Coonerty, with his knowledge of Constitutional law, was in a unique position to exert his influence on the council and/or to voluntarily bring forth an amendment to the panhandling ordinance to bring it in line with the First Amendment. He obviously did not.

I, too, would like to know exactly what Ryan Coonerty has done to deserve an ACLU award. In my opinion, in view of the foregoing information, he has not earned such consideration.

Kate Wells


Coonerty's bad civil liberties record locally caused him to be opposed and rejected as an Obama delegate last April in spite of his high profile "mayoral" status. His punitive hostility towards critics is chronicled there in the e-mail correspondence he had with Obama supporter Metteyya Brahmana. See "Coonerty to Face Challenge in Obama Delegate Selection 2 PM Sunday: at

Coonerty decreed new restrictive rules at City Council making Santa Cruz one of the only cities in the state that requires Council permission for community members to speak for two minutes on individual consent agenda items. See "Coonerty Uses New Consent Agenda Gag Rule" at

Ironically Coonerty faced off against ACLU legal committee attorneys Kate Wells and Don Zimmerman in a television debate on the Sleeping Ban from which Coonerty had me banned last fall: See . There Coonerty defends a law which makes "sleep criminals" out of homeless people. Coonerty has taken no action to reduce the $97 fines which 60-90 homeless people incur each month in Santa Cruz, where there is no emergency drop-in shelter for 90% of the city's 1500-2000 homeless population.

Coonerty's controversial record is also chronicled at

At the SEIU Candidate forum earlier this month, Coonerty continued his call for more "quality of life" enforcement downtown. This is right-wing code talk for giving the police more power to selectively enforce their own sense of what is appropriate behavior downtown, using the Downtown Ordinances which severely restrict sitting, sparechanging, political tabling, and performing. Unfortunately Jeff Smedberg banned all recording of the candidates' commentsn or we could hear Coonerty's comments uncensored.

The Sentinel original announcement of the ACLU awards ceremony can be found at:

Those who haven't the time or energy to show up to speak to ACLUskees directly on Sunday may wish to cancel their donations to and/or membership in the ACLU by e-mailing the neo-liberals who came up with this Coonerty election eve support measure at board [at] .
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Sum Dim
Sat, Aug 30, 2008 4:19PM
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Robert Norse
Mon, Aug 25, 2008 9:28PM
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Smells Like Stasi
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a fan of the freeway blogger
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a fan of the freeway blogger
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Robert Norse
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