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Community Comes Together on Privacy and Surveillance
by Steve Pleich (spleich [at]
Friday Feb 14th, 2014 11:53 AM
ACLU Santa Cruz to Take the Lead on License Plate Readers
Wednesday night at Louden Nelson Community Center a standing room only crowd heard presentations and exchanged sharp views on privacy and domestic surveillance with local activists and Council Member Micah Posner. The forum entitled Surveillance City covered a broad range of local privacy topics and produced a particularly spirited dialogue on the issue of the proposed use by the Santa Cruz Police Department of Automatic License Plate Readers. Presentations were made by activist/journalist John Malkin, Restore the Fourth Santa Cruz Co-Founder Colin Campbell Clyde and Council Member Micah Posner. An animated short produced by ACLU Santa Cruz Technology Chair Jay Campbell was screened.

It was clear from the overflow crowd of well over 100 residents and the intensity of the discussion that resistance to the increasingly diminishing right of personal privacy in Santa Cruz was something that the community was eager to rally and organize around. Many in the audience called for a fuller discussion of the vote by City Council to accept Justice Assistance Grant funding for the license plate readers and urged Council Member Posner to push for a rehearing of this issue.

Local Constitutional Rights advocate Daniel Sheehan decried the invasion of privacy this technology represents and said that the question is not how these readers should be used but whether or not they should be used at all. In his view, any guidelines or protocols established for their use would create a potential for abuse that far outweighed any perceived benefit to the community.

Attorney and long time homeless rights advocate Ed Frey called for full transparency in city council decisions and particularly noted that the deliberations which led to the council's acceptance of the grant funding should have been a matter fully disclosed and debated in a public forum. Robert Norse echoed his sentiments in a pointed criticism of council protocols. Council Member Posner, who admitted to being less than fully informed himself about the readers, urged the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to “take the lead” in galvanizing public opinion and support for reconsideration of council's decision.

The forum, which was scheduled to end at 8:30, lasted until nearly 9:30 as many of the attendees remained to continue the discussion about the privacy and surveillance issues that clearly resonate with many residents.

As of this writing, ACLU Santa Cruz is developing an on line petition and will continue to be engaged in the broad issue of domestic surveillance and specifically the effort to gain a rehearing before council on license plate readers.

Co-sponsors ACLU Santa Cruz and Restore the Fourth Santa Cruz wish to thank Food Not Bombs Santa Cruz for provided a wonderful meal and the people of Santa Cruz who made this forum a truly community building event.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Robert Norse
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 7:25 AM

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Thanks to Steve and the other participants--even to the local ACLU--for the forum.

I'm sorry there didn't seem to be a sign-up list to establish a working group to mobilize community sentiment to establish the Snoop-Free Zone of Santa Cruz, which John Malkin supported. Or a date set for a second forum or organizational meeting on that issue.

Still--unlike almost all prior ACLU public events--it seemed to be more than an organizing/fundraising tool for the ACLU--and was focused on a local (though narrow) issue (that of the license-ID software).

I was mistaken in claiming that the issue was originally a consent agenda item (i.e. one that wouldn't come up for particular focused public comment and city council individual comment). It was actually item #24 on the September 10, 2013 afternoon agenda The video is archived at if you click on item #24.

This is the responsibility of City Clerk/Administrator Bren Lehr. She's been responsive to Public Records Act requests, but seems with other staff to have taken the lead in putting forward harsher and more restrictive decorum rules. She also initially refused to forward me the specifics of claims against the SCPD in time for the Council meeting and continues to refuse to put them on the Agenda for the public to see. Kathy Agnon of the Parks and Recreation Restrictions Dept claims she is responsible for the more repressive permit requirements of the Public Assembly law last December. While presented by Mathews, Robinson, and Terrazas, the Sidewalk Shrinkage law (removing all but 5% of the downtown sidewalks for donation performance, political tabling, and vending) was enthusiastically argued by staffer Scott Collins. The staff seems to have--as it always had--a large share in both the creation of the agenda and its advocacy.

The agenda's description of the item nowhere mentions the specific spying software that the SCPD is seeking, but rather describes the grant as "2013 Justice Assistance Grant (PD) Resolution amending the FY 14 budget in the amount of $61,916 to accept and appropriate Justice Assistance Grant funds to purchase traffic monitoring equipment and to distribute $24,208 of the grant funds to the County of Santa Cruz."

Strangely, the Council's minutes omit entirely any mention of the item (ending with item #23): .

It is likely nothing would have been said about the item at all if it had been on the Consent Agenda as even larger such expenditures are since City Council since 2007 has adopted former Mayor Coonerty's public-dismissing procedure of not allowing the public to demand an item on the agenda be allowed individual discussion and vote (that can now only happen with a City Council member's permission and action). Councilmember Posner declined to agree to return the older more inclusive procedure and publicly encourage public participation by restoring the traditional process of allowing anyone to pull an item for staff report, council discussion, and public comment. The current process allows only the briefest of comments (2 minutes) and that on the entire City Council Consent agenda as a bloc.

Adding insult to injury, if one succeeds in getting an item by pulled with an eloquent appeal, one won't be allowed to speak on the item individually (though others will). Most other local Boards and City Council do not so muzzle the public. Including our own local Board of Supervisors.

Posner has agreed (privately but refuses to make a public statement) that he will "make sure" that every member of the public who wants to pull an item will at least have 2 minutes to speak--though not through pulling the item. This is done as a part of Posner's attempt to woo the staff and "save valuable staff time". I have yet to see this happen.

I do not mean to encourage people to put their trust in lobbying City Council or attending City Council meetings (unless with pitchforks and torches) because they walk into a rigged game there unless they come in multitudes with a determination to stay until their issues are addressed and basic constitutional rights restored.
Admittedly, I continue to show up on a semi-regular basis, but what I've seen generally is a contraction of the rights of the public (with my presence often used as the pretext). Independent organizing, record gathering, and demonstrating is what I recommend--with a particularly focus on the highly paid City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk, & Parks and Rec Director--all of who earn around $200,000 a year or more.

At the forum, though I arrived late, I circulated this form seeking more information about fixed surveillance cameras downtown and retention records of those cameras.

These are the locations where it was suggested surveillance devices (presumably video) may be operating in downtown Santa Cruz according to last night's informal polling. None of these locations are verified, so if you have more info either confirming, denying, or making the locations more specific, please add it. It would be great to create a map of surveillance locations downtown.

Near Cinema 9; Parking Garages; SC Public Library; ON Washington St.; Police Station Back Doors; Near Stagnano's Fish Warehouse; Clock Tower; Traffic Control Cameras; Outside Ecogoods/New Leaf; Outside S.C. Coffee Roasters overhead lobby area; Pacific Ave: Hidden Cameras & Microphones; Cruzio's Internet outside building; Metro Center

I'd like to see us get together a map of surveillanced areas (in hopes of promoting John's surveillance-free zones. I think it's also appropriate to ask how long government keeps the surveillance records & who they share they with. Ditto with the private businesses--at least the last question.

If a second Surveillance-Free Santa Cruz seminar is planned (maybe to invite supervisorial candidates to discuss their positions on these issues), I'd suggest a sign-up list to organize support for a No Snooping Zone. In the meantime I suggest the community not wait for the City Council or the ACLU...

by Bruce Holloway
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 5:51 PM
Robert, you wrote, "It is likely nothing would have been said about the item at all if it had been on the Consent Agenda..." That's how it is with most items on a consent agenda, but since item 24 wasn't on the consent agenda and was discussed, it's hard to understand your point. Also I'm confused by your comment because the link to the minutes you provided says:

General Business (continued)

24. 2013 Justice Assistance Grant (PD)

Deputy Chief of Police S. Clark gave an oral report and responded to Council’s questions.


Robert Norse


Kem Akol

ACTION: Councilmember Mathews moved, seconded by Councilmember Lane, to adopt Resolution NS-28,689 amending the FY 14 budget in the amount of $61,916 to accept and appropriate Justice Assistance Grant funds to purchase traffic monitoring equipment and to distribute $24,208 of the grant funds to the County of Santa Cruz. The motion carried unanimously.

The following Items 25 and 26, and the City Attorney report from closed session were reordered by the Mayor to be heard at the end of the 7:00 p.m. Session.
by Steve Pleich
(spleich [at] Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 7:19 PM
Please sign the petition to preserve the right of privacy in Santa Cruz:
by Steve Pleich (posted by Norse)
Saturday Feb 15th, 2014 8:04 PM
Steve requested I post the following link to a petition:
by Robert Norse
Sunday Feb 16th, 2014 7:53 AM
Bruce is correct, the item is mentioned in the Minutes. But when I viewed it (twice) before writing the comment, the Agenda ended at #23. Could be my error,but it seems strange cause I doublechecked. Anyway, I'm glad it's there now. And thanks for pointing out my error.

As for the Consent Agenda concern, my point was that such items as the license plate spying devices and other larger expenditures, are often on the Consent Agenda (as well as being insufficiently described on the printed agenda). If the community doesn't have access to the those items through the ability to speak on them individually--as was the case before Coonerty and is generally the case in other City Councils (though not all), we may face this kind of fait accompli situation again.

Posner continues to refuse to reverse this public comment shutdown (though he has the power to do so as an individual Council member). His private assurances are far from sufficient and similar in nature to individual "deals" police officers have with favored people on the street that they'll only "go after the problem people". Either the law protects us all, or ultimately it protects none of us.