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Round Two--The New Anti-Homeless Laws Return for a Final Reading

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Event Type:
Robert Norse
Location Details:
City Council Chambers 809 Center St.

The anti-homeless "no loitering on the median" law is item #16 on the Afternoon Agenda for Tuesday 6-11 at 3 PM (likely to come up slightly later). This will be the second and final reading of the law unless it's modified (highly unlikely). It will then go into effect in a month.

As is typical for those trying to restrict public spaces and criminalize homeless presence without saying so, the staff report (and the complaint anti-homeless "Public Safety" Committee) uses a "public safety" pretext without any statistical documentation.

Even the staff report (go to click on item #15) acknowledges there is no documentation backing up the "Public Safety" cover story for this latest "pander to prejudice" proposal.
Surprisingly, after Lane and Posner made some brief comments opposing the law (and voted against it) on May 28th, Santa Cruz Weekly wrote a sarcastic article (implicitly opposing the law)--which apparently is not on line.

No statistics indicating any accidents involving people, no car crashes--simply some traffic signs crashed into (which has nothing to do with people on the median--who may actually make drivers more careful).

The Terrazas-Mathews-Comstock "Public Safety" committee also used a police report about complaints about folks on two medians and anecdotal anti-panhandler NIMBYtalk to ratify a staff proposal. That proposal impacts ALL medians and roundabouts in the city. If it passes (as is likely without massive protest), we shall have "thou shalt not loiter" restrictions starting July 11th.

The ordinance as written not only outlaws traditional use of the medians downtown (in front of Zachary's, for instance—though there's already a “keep off the grass” sign there) for socializing, but will outlaw holding political signs during the regular protests that happen.

The "Public Safety" Committee is the group that passed this latest “punish peaceful panhandlers” law on to City Council. The right-wing crowd (Deborah Elston of Santa Cruz Neighbors, for instance) at that meeting and again at City Council on May 28th made it clear that their target was "panhandlers" (by which they meant poor homeless panhandlers, not City Council enablers of million dollar De Sal consultants, of course).

The gruesome threesome making up the committee also gave a favorable nod to other anti-homeless laws in the hopper: stay-away orders from public parks (after citation and prior to any charges being filed or trial), triple-fine zones throughout the city for (homeless) infraction offenses, more park rangers replacing security guards, and other gentrification goodies.

Repeated twice in the no-First-Amendment-on-the-Medians ordinance is the homeless-hostile rhetoric which reveals the ordinance's true targets: " a purpose other than...assistance in crossing the street including the purposes of disorderly conduct, solicitation of money, solicitation of prostitution, consumption of alcoholic beverages, or other activity not related to crossing the street. Ironically all these activities are already illegal (including panhandling someone in a vehicle).

Making illegal asking for help with signs is grossly abusive of the First Amendment, of course, as well as a callous slap in the face at those in need. It is also a violation of elementary morality, as well as a sign of the desperation and determination of NIMBY bigots to clear the streets of visibly poor people messing up the fantasy of healthy happy neighborhoods.

The police-partial city staff got the 24-hour stay away ordinance from San Jose and Santa Clara County. Councilmember Posner reported that the ordinance did receive two negative votes in the Parks and Recreation Commission when it was heard there (no publicity either before or after). Attempts to get the minutes or staff report from that meeting—or the audioif it exist--have so far been unavailing

This second ordinance passed on May 28th and awaits a second vote Tuesday (item #16 on the afternoon agenda) proposes up to $1000 fine and six months or a year in jail for “any person who willfully harasses or interferes" with a city employee in the park or on the beach.

A second section provides similar misdemeanor penalties for anyone who “by his or her conduct,or by threatening, abusive, or profane language, willfully molests or unreasonably interferes with the use of a City park or beach by any other person”

Both provisions may create a wealth of jury trials for those who want to challenge them, unless Public Pretenders can coax a plea—which is the case in 95% of the charges, I'm told.

Good news for courts trying to cut costs, bad news for the Constitution and the rights of the poor—since such plea bargains are usually done under threat of continued jail pending or after trial.

Attempts of the city attorney to later reduce such measures to infractions (which would strip folks of their trial and public defender rights) comes into conflict with state law limiting such shenanagans.

My real focus, however, is another section which provides for 24 hour stay away orders from the park at the whim of the offended officer if any "no smoking", "no sleeping" or other crimeless crime citations are issued. And again the ordinance provides for misdemeanor penalties.

These provisions—again continuing the Public Safety Masquerade—target people who NIMBY's DTAers and TBSC-types find uncomfortable. But since they can't openly ban “homeless-looking” people, they have to apply this to everyone—which makes it dangerous to political protesters and anyone who the police dislike.

This is dangerous, overbroad, unconstitutional, and targeting legislation, but primarily designed to be self-policing—on the theory that a tamed Santa Cruz would never assert their rights in mass (say, as the Turkish people are doing—and as Occupy Santa Cruz folks did two years ago). Everyone will become their own police officer, internalizing the fear and restrictions.

The restrictions of these ordinances do provide for an interesting Constitutional challenge for those willing to face jail (say by holding up a political sign in a park after dark or on a median).

It may also have an interesting trial if protests in solidarity with the Turkish Summer, against NSA spying, or (dare to dream) against the anti-homeless deportations and property destruction.

The text of the two laws can be found in my earlier account at .

The only change was the addition of the word "abusive" and the removal of the word "annoying" leaving the relevant section to read: “Any person who by his or her conduct, or by threatening, or abusive, or profane language annoys, willfully molests or unreasonably interferes with the use of a City park or beach by any other person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Videos of police (and private citizens) harassing people under the Downtown Ordinances are helpful tools for those of us resisting these not-so-subtle attacks on the poor outside. Take them and post them!

I may be showing a video myself at the 5 PM session of City Council during Oral Communications.
Added to the calendar on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 11:16AM
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