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Restore Sidewalk Space For All; End the "One Hour of Free Speech and Get Going" Rule
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Nov 18th, 2014 2:12 PM
Item #10 on the 2:30 PM Santa Cruz City Council Agenda finalizes an ordinance which requires all performers, vendors, tablers and solicitors to restrict themselves to less than 2% of the Pacific Avenue sidewalk. Setting up these small static “performance pens” is abusive and unnecessary. Instead, end the "Forbidden Zones." They take up more than 99% of the total sidewalk area on Pacific Avenue—and more in other business districts. End the virtual Ban on traditional innocent Santa Cruz activity. Normal non-commercial Santa Cruz activity like sitting, sparechanging, performing, vending, and tabling is now labeled “a crime”. It is not. Restore the good-neighbor Voluntary Street Performers Guidelines successful from 1980 to 2002. End the “Move-Along-Every-Hour” law with its costly penalties and track record of police abuse. Just say "no" in Council and on the streets.
Hiding visible povety and scaring away diversity using "public safety", "clutter", and "bad for business" is unworkable and unworthy.

The sidewalks belong to the entire community, not just the well-to do. This includes the street community, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the young, minorities, homeless people, and all the rest of us.

The proposed "performance pens"--the rectangular areas created by the colored dots on the sidewalk--are as unworkable, unfair, and unnecessary as the current laws. The current laws, worsened in the anti-homeless hysteria of 2013 have proved so unworkable they are largely unenforced, except when police choose to swoop in.

The performers I have spoken to do not support these laws but call for an end to (or at least a modification of) the Move-Along law. They'd like to be able to not have to sit next to the curb with the noise and exhaust fumes of the street, stemming from the heightened sense of entitlement that merchants have over what is supposed to be the public sidewalk.

A discreet defact police state situation is created by the current "stay in your 1% of the sidewalk or get a ticket for hundreds of dollars". (And maybe a Stay-Away Order as well). Hopefully it is not sustainable.

The proposed “pens” do not allow for flexible voluntary understandings between performers but inject cops and their smiley auxiliaries into the mix. The Bans and Pens are a solution in search of a problem. It's never been shown that there's any real crime, traffic, or safety problem. In previous years these ordinances were rammed through Council by merchant and police interests (and the staff that supports them).

Regarding the Dubious Dots proposal (dots outline the performance pens), there has not been--nor is there scheduled--any real open public process with the actual performers, vendors, tablers, local residents, homeless service agencies, and community. Vice Mayor Don Lane and Council member Pamela Comstock met privately with select groups. The cosmetic 2-minute public comment period is not a serious place to get real input and consider it, as the completed ordinance is clearly intended to sail through without any real meaningful dialogue.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The new ordinance does expand the absurdly-small 12 square foot postage-sized space to a 24 square foot area. It does allow for 61 dotted areas, some specified for performance only, some for vending and tabling, some for all three.

However, performing outside any of those 61 areas in what are obvious open spots would be illegal. You would have to move every hour to be "legal" and move 100' (not coming back for 24 hours to the spot you left). Since many of these spots are clustered together, that would give far fewer options for performers, who would then have to 'bump" other performers or vendors or tablers or just plain folks gathering and socializing. All under penalty of outrageous ($300-400) fines.

However, it leaves in place the 14' Forbidden Zones for sitting and sparechanging. These continued No-Go Zones essentially reduce the space now taken up by the dotted areas. Poor people doing these things have fewer places to go without getting into conflict with performers.

Perhaps the best thing for the community to do is to ignore these ordinances, but do so with videocameras, witnesses, and a willingness to address hostile police enforcement. Police have backed off for much of the last year in many cases, because the 2013 ramp-up of the laws was so absurd as to make most performers and vendors criminals.

The real danger is that an apprehensive community will internalize the current series of absurd rules and in so doing kill a great deal of street culture as well as intensify the criminalization jacket being wrapped around homeless people for such "crimes" as sitting, sleeping, and smoking. "Legal" is not necessary "legitimate". And "legitimate" is often not "legal".

In the days ahead, we need to plan new strategies in the streets and in the courts. These include using such strategies as “Take Me to A Magistrate”, small claims court actions, injunctive relief, and
All of this requires continuing documentation and education. We need to be aware of when someone is molested under these laws. Whether the current “1% of the sidewalk for 99% of the community” 2013 law or the likely-to-be-rubberstamped “stay in the dots performance pens” changes. Video it. Photograph it. Write about. And post it. Bullies will continue to abuse unless they are met with resistance.

What most people (even the most rabid Take Back Santa Cruz-ee's) don't seem to grasp is that they are very close to falling into the poverty that will put them below the poverty line, as is, I am advised, 20% of the County. One wonders how much of the “push 'em out of the downtown” pressure is coming from TBSC-backers in the real estate racket eager to drive up property values by driving out the poor.
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Audio of November 18th, 2014 Santa Cruz City Council meetingJohn Cohen-Colby, Ph.D.Monday Nov 24th, 2014 10:00 AM
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