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The "Panhandler Parking Meter" Hoax
by Robert Norse and Herman Kalfin
Monday Apr 19th, 2010 11:20 PM
On Tuesday 4-13, the Santa Cruz City Council passed the Downtown Association's latest mixture of Anti-Panhandling Propaganda and Anti-Homeless Forbidden Zone Expansion, masquerading as a mixture or art and charity. Past such efforts in Santa Cruz (1989: "Give a Hand not a Handout"), 1997: "Real Change Not Spare Change") were clearly transparent and mean-spirited from the getgo and failed. Attorney, photographer, and activist Herman Kalfin writes hiis own satirical take on the Rotkin-Coonerty Council's latest giveaway of public space to privatization interests.
City Council passed this proposal, without any stats showing its supposed effectiveness in Denver or other cities. Nor any estimates of the time and money already spent by staff. The Council voted to locate 8 - 13 parking meters dressed up with new artistic colors and the inscription "Imagine Positive Change" to provide those wanting to give money "an alternative to panhandlers".

The Sentinel story can be found at .

The staff report backing this dead fish wrapped up in ribbons can be found at

A map showing where the panhandling meters will be placed reveals the true purpose of this ordinance--to constrict panhandling, sitting, performing, and political tabling space still further. It can be found at . Say goodbye to performing spots near New Leaf, Borders, and elsewhere.

Also merchants will be able to "sponsor" new meters at new spots--allowing what looks to be an unconstitutional veto on political, artistic, and other First Amendment activity on the sidewalk. Apparently, the City Council isn't satisfied with backing City Attorney's "sing a song that wakes up a sleeper during the day, pay a $250 fine" case they directed City Attorney Barisone to pursue (see "Homeless activist ordered to community service after singing downtown" at

I suspect these meters will provoke both ridicule and resentment and wouldn't be surprised if someone doesn't adopt a "Cool Hand Luke" response to them (the Paul Newman character was arrested for wrenching the heads off of parking meters while drunk). The "penguin" art statues--some placed so as to set up "forbidden zones" for sitting, sparechanging, tabling, and busqueing--have already been baptized with red paint (quickly removed by city workers and unreported by the Sentinel).

But, all is not lost, Mayor Rotkin assured us that the meters will be placed to allow "at least one place in every block" where folks can sit, panhandle, political table, and/or perform--perhaps all on top of each other.

Councilmember Don Lane (whom I've called "Gone Lame" for years) revealed his true colors quite clearly by cooking up this deceptive proposal. Lane sits on the Board of the Homeless Services Center and should be ashamed of himself--though perhaps, considering the silence of the Board in the face of repeated assaults against the rights of homeless people, he considers himself mainstream. Beiers also voted for the proposal as did every other member of this callous and cowardly Council. (Madrigal was absent).

HERMAN KALFIN'S ARTICLE (sent to me to be republished)

Plan to Install Fake Parking Meters to Help Homeless Actually Tricky Scheme to Establish 14 Foot Stay Away Zones – Stores Pay $500 for the Extra Protection

Pacific Avenue, the “mall” as it is known to the locals, appears to be straight out of Hollywood’s central casting, with wide tree lined sidewalks and shiny busy stores. Cars (usually) stop for the throngs of shoppers cascading into crosswalks, clutching ice creams cones and bags of loot piled onto credit cards.

Street performers sing and lurk on many corners. Some performers have Grammies. Others might be selling gram bags. Some might sing like angels, others not so much. And that is the epicenter of a war that is going on in Santa Cruz.

Some Pacific Avenue businesses do not appreciate the cadre of performers, hippies, panhandlers and wannabees that perform and bake in proximity to their front doors. As a result, the hammer of the State has been smashing hippies and homeless on the mall like a whack a mole out of control.

Long lists of laws have attempted to criminalize hanging out, singing, or being homeless on the mall. Downtown interests, backed by the police and members of the City Counsel claim that they need to keep the mall safe for the shoppers and strollers. Street performers have recently been put on trial for singing too loud.

Like an overzealous condo board, this sort of thing is expected from your garden-variety wannabe police state. A new scheme to keep the perceived riff-raff away however is so clever and ironic, that it deserves special mention.

The City of Santa Cruz has just begun installing vintage parking meters on the mall with the claimed goal to raise money to help the homeless. Instead of giving spare change to the homeless directly, pump your the spare change into the meter. The City will then collect that money and provide services to the homeless.

One obvious goal is cutting off direct money to the panhandlers and street performers. This writer further notes this to be a Trojan horse of greater trickery, and a new police enforcement tool.

Panhandling and sitting will be banned within 14 feet of the faux parking meters. Political tabling will be banned within 10 feet of the faux parking meters. That’s because the meters are deemed public art, which Santa Cruz protects under the 14-foot stay away forbidden zone. It is now expected that these meters will be installed along the mall, in front of businesses that do not want people hanging out nearby.

More skeptical or jaded voices (ok this author) also opine this has the hue of a shakedown. Any business could sponsor a faux meter in front of its business for $500. It’s akin to the police offering protection to that business for an extra “donation.”

Yet another view is that money can buy you an extra set of laws for protection. A wealthier business spends the $500. The less affluent business can expect to receive the less vocally trained visitors. It also has a whiff of a tax (stated just to get the few republicans in the area angry also). In any event, this faux meter plan does not appear transparent.

The plan purports to offer a revenue source to help the homeless. In fact, it is a scheme to caste aside people central casting consider extras in this drama we call a community. (© Herman I. Kalfen - April 18, 2010)

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by cool hand luke
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 8:07 AM
It's funny you should mention the penguins Robert, as you pointed out that Rotkin has assured us that there will be somewhere to sit/panhandle/idle lazily on every block---those penguins actually effectively ensured (with help from the change machine at the corner of Pacific and Elm, where its worth noting a bench used to be) that nobody can sit anywhere on the stretch from Cathcart to Elm on the Catalyst side of the street, and from Cathcart to Maple on the Metro side. Whats ironic is that in many cases, the removal of those benches more strongly affects older residents and visitors (my recently passed 98-yr old great-grandfather, for example, who needed to sit down every 100-200 ft) than the council realizes and in many cases pushes their business away.

It is just a few more steps before it is illegal to do anything in this town except work or spend money.
by Standard Norse process
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 6:19 PM
Robert writes

"I suspect these meters will provoke both ridicule and resentment and wouldn't be surprised if someone doesn't adopt a "Cool Hand Luke" response to them (the Paul Newman character was arrested for wrenching the heads off of parking meters while drunk). The "penguin" art statues--some placed so as to set up "forbidden zones" for sitting, sparechanging, tabling, and busqueing--have already been baptized with red paint (quickly removed by city workers and unreported by the Sentinel)."

The irony of course, is that he's already seeded the effort by being the first to ridicule and resent them. The hypocrisy being that in doing so, he's providing a virtual request that someone get out there and vandalize them, per his personal wishes.

Robert would go Bat-shit if someone were to suggest, innocently of course, that the best way to get rid of pandhandlers would be to ignore them entirely, give them not a cent, and treat them like pariahs. Not that I or ANYONE I KNOW would do that or suggest that. It's just a simple statement of hypothetical possibilities.

Right, Robert? We're just idly pondering possible consequences. Right? Yeah, right.
by Ben
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 8:02 PM
The content of this report is very misleading. To date the majority of donations for installation of the meters have come from private individuals. The placement of the meters was pre-approved by the department of Public Works with input from the Downtown Improvement Task Force. None of the meters are being placed in front of a business that donated any portion of the funds. The statements in the above report are false, misleading, and wreak of conspiracy theory.
by Ben
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 8:12 PM
I forgot to mention something. Since the placement and number of meters has already been decided it would not be possible for a business to "sponsor" a meter in front of their location. They can make a donation, but the money would go towards the program and not towards installing additional meters.
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 10:41 PM
Ben's clarification that "sponsorship" of a meter doesn't mean placing new ones may well be true. Though perhaps Ben can be good enough to tell us his role in this, where he gets his info, and what his real name is?

It is misleading to use the phrase "private individuals" when we are talking about the Downtown Association and downtown businesses. Conservative merchants have tried one scheme after another to "discourage" panhandling, snipping and clipping the Constitution as they go (or getting the city council to do so for them--see MC 9.10).

The Downtown Improvement Task Force is a closed group run by Mathews, Coonerty, and Robinson--the three most reactionary Councilmembers. It includes cops, staff members, & business people. I imagine Downtown Hosts and RDA hacks are welcome. It is not open to the public and has been operating behind closed doors for years.

Parks and Recreation removes the benches without public hearing or notice and claims it has no records of the benches it has removed. The SCPD provides money to create anti-homeless (as well as elderly and disabled-hostile) architecture by spending 6 grand to move the railing of fences on two of the only four sitable planter lips in town (in front of Pacific Trading Company and New Leaf).

Privatizing large swaths of sidewalk, making 95% of the sidewalk "no sitting", "no panhandling", "no performing for donation", "no political tabling" zones--which of these claims is false or exaggerated? "Public art" and "public information" signs suddenly become markers for the expansion of these no-go zones. Just simple facts. Simple noxious facts.

And if it isn't a "conspiracy", then it's certain done with the knowledge and consent of agencies, but without meaningful public notice or debate and without any meaningful input from the poor people impacted.

As for the meters, I think resenting and ridiculing the meters is a positive and likely social response. I think their placement vandalizes the public space, ridicules the whole idea of art, and represents a presumptuous, mean-spirited, and selfish imposition on community space.

Trying to relieve white liberal guilt by further isolating those who want to give from those who need what they're offering--all to further a wrong-headed business agenda is dangerously abusive, particularly in these economic times. It's also an inept proven failure (in terms of discouraging panhandling), both here and in other cities.

Finally, $1700 (the year's projected income) will do nothing for real needs like jobs, shelter, the restoration of civil rights and public space for the poor, and community control of police. Perhaps the SCPD can stop funding anti-homeless architecture and actually start helping the poor it so regularly rousts. The $12,000 they donated to eliminate 30-40 sitting spaces around the two planters represent more than 6 years of "Panhandling Meter" take.

by Willis
Tuesday Apr 20th, 2010 11:47 PM
The meters take no action direct action to stop panhandling and do not prevent someone who feels generous from giving money to anyone. I fail the see the disadvantage here. Perhaps money put in the meters will be less money spent on crack, heroine, and alcohol but when did someone decide that was a bad thing?
by Ben
Wednesday Apr 21st, 2010 3:44 PM
My name is Ben.

Robert wrote "It is misleading to use the phrase "private individuals" when we are talking about the Downtown Association and downtown businesses. Conservative merchants have tried one scheme after another to "discourage" panhandling, snipping and clipping the Constitution as they go (or getting the city council to do so for them--see MC 9.10)."

No, what is misleading is stating your assumptions about who the people involved are, without knowing who those people actually are. I am not involved with the program, but know a few people who are. I've heard enough first hand details to know when you're blowing smoke rather than telling the truth. Possibly you are spreading false information because you want to appear to know something about the subject rather then be identified as not knowing anything due your to being deleted from the process.

When I wrote "private individuals" it is exactly what I meant to say. The lion's share of the money raised has been donated by people with no involvement in the Downtown Association or with the city. Private donors, philanthropists, and community organizations. From what I know, and I have no reason to doubt my sources, the city has only donated a few materials to be used and no cash. The Downtown Association has limited involvement. The woman primarily involved with putting this together used to be a DTA member, but no longer is. She also sits on the boards of a few other organizations that are not business centric. Hardly any merchants (possibly 12) even knew about this program prior to it being announced in The Sentinel.

In reference to your comments about the prior attempts to deal with panhandling. You call this project a dead fish, when in fact it is a done deal. The reason it is a done deal is that you were left out of the process. The two prior attempts involved people who, for some reason, thought you should be let in on what was going on. That was their mistake. By taking you out of the equation, a group of people wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of those less fortunate were able to realize a goal. As a previous person commented, if someone wants to give a person money directly they can still do so. If they want to give money towards services that can help these people end their homeless state, then they can give money to the meters. Just as you say homeless people should have choices in how they live their lives, those wanting to donate money towards helping those people should also have choices in how to contribute.