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Open Letter to Vice-Mayor Justin Cummings

by Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at]
Vice-Mayor Justin Cumming hasn't responded to repeated requests for a meeting with HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) and Conscience and Action, so I sent him this open letter. The issue of bathroom closure may come up quite strongly during Oral Communications with a proposed Pee Presentation at 7 PM Tuesday night 10-22.
The following is an extended version of the letter I sent to Vice-Mayor Cummings a day or two ago.


Dear Justin,

Conscience and Action & HUFF have been concerned about both your position on a number of issues and your accessibility.for some time. A number of our members have tried to set up meetings with you over the past few months without even getting the courtesy of a response. You apparently have no office hours. This letter represents my views.and is shared by many in both groups.

Last year we voted for you in the expectation that you would address pressing issues fairer treatment of tenants, the disabled, poor folks, seniors, students, workers, and folks outside. You particularly associated yourself with the pressing need for rent control and just eviction protections in the Measure M campaign. That struggle lost due to heavy spending by out-of-city corporate forces.

However you and Drew Glover won election as part of a promised Progressive majority on City Council. A majority of voters here supported abolition of Costa-Hawkins state-wide though that was defeated elsewhere.

Once on the Council, you abandoned tenants in January and again most recently. Your failure to even schedule an agenda item at the next City Council meeting ignored the needs of the Lower Ocean evictees, whose advocates spoke most eloquently during Oral Communications. Similarly your failure to press for immediate and mandatory landlord information continues to disguise the wretched and worsening situation for renters here.

Though you have occasionally allowed for extended Oral Communications, you have significantly broken with your progressive colleagues on such vital issues as the need for Survival Campgrounds. Calling such spaces for emergency (tent) housing has been deceptively called "Transitional Campgrounds" but there is no housing to transition to.

In a two-hour meeting last April, advocates urged you to maintain and assist Ross Camp until such time as there were adequate shelter alternatives. The excuse you gave us for not doing so was to "test the accuracy" of assistant City Manger Susie O'Hara's false "we have adequate replacement shelter" assurances followed by City Manager Martin Bernal's "don't clean but eliminate Ross Camp" actions in court..

Recent months have clearly shown the glaring insufficiency of shelter--which you continue to ignore in spite of the looming Winter Shelter crisis. It looks to be worse than last year or the year before with neither a San Lorenzo nor a Ross Camp Emergency Shelter Area. Diminished indoor shelter and increased police/ranger sweeps along Coral St., the Levee, in parks, and in the Pogonip are the "get out of sight or out of town" solution that you've taken no action to oppose.

You have refused to reopen Louden Nelson bathrooms, supporting anecdotal and unsubstantiated claims of Parks and Recreation's Iseth Rae's anecdotal anti-homeless narrative there. Her false "safety" pretexts without substantive documentation have become the toxic new "normal" at what was a Community Center with fences, increased harassment, and more hostile policies creating a gated community for the privileged and more punishment for the poor.

Months ago, fellow Progressives introduced a package of homeless, renter, and procedural reforms. You sided with Mayor Watkins' reactionary minority in refusing to acting on or even agendise them at City Council. Instead you frequently supported Watkins' shutdown of public discussion, muzzling of Council members, and manipulation of Council agendas. Meetings that should have been held in the Civic were crammed into Council chambers, locking out dozens of members of the public.

Instead you created the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness [CACH], a group subservient to Vice Manager Susie O'Hara's failed predictions and misdirection as assigned staff member. This is the same staffer whose-regularly false assurances of adequate shelter have backed a failed shelter narrative--something that has gone on for several years.

The yet another set of talking heads with little homeless representation. They have thus far ignored the obvious-- the many pressing recommendations of past boards such as the 1999-2000 Homeless Issues Task Force, the 2015 Grand Jury report, and City Council's 2017 "to do" list. While :"discussing" the glaring shortage of bathrooms, they continue to meet in the Louden Center--which denies seniors and the very homeless they represent dignified and free access.

You have sided with a Mayor whose actions in suppressing opposition agenda items, discussion, and public comment has become blatant and regular. You have allowed the City Attorney and City Manager to move issues like abusive enforcement of ordinances that unfairly and disproportionately impact homeless people into closed session--stalling any public discussion. The examination of harsh and target laws such as the park closing, sidewalk blocking, and trespass on public property--introduced in February, delayed until May, has disappeared from public view.

You have allowed Council to be bulldozed by a reactionary NIMBY mob in denying homeless people the basic right to sleep. Neither in their vehicles on Delaware St. nor near Depot park, even token toleration programs have been drowned by the voices of bigots under the guise of "insufficient community input".. You allowed O'Hara and her staff to eliminate consideration of literally hundreds of other city properties and create a hostile situation facilitating reactionary demagoguery.

Your vote facilitating panicky exclusion of peaceful clean campers from the beaches in September furthers the false and damaging image of homeless people as irresponsible dangerous criminals.

For months, this failure has resulted in the failure to address the most elementary needs of homeless people and tenants. This includes a place to sleep, safety in the vehicles they themselves provide for shelter, immediate restoration of elementary sanitary facilities, and fundamental renter protections.

The premature Ross Camp closure assured a stream of homeless people to the neighborhoods, downtown, the parks, the beaches,and the Pogonip--further exacerbating community tensions as well as threatening the health and safety of hundreds of homeless people.

Your credulous reliance on false city staff reports and stalled Board of Supervisor action has fatally compromised the promises which the community believed in electing you last November.

In City Council chambers, you refused to challenge the failure to appoint Progressives to Council committees, ironically accepting a position as Vice-Mayor and then turning your back on your former colleagues. You have failed to speak up on behalf of fellow Councilmembers targeted for censure and recall in+ a deafening silence, resulting in a likely neutering of the potential Progressive majority over the next year.

As the key vote blocking progressive legislation and enabling the City Manager's reactionary Old Guard, you have betrayed the interests of the most vulnerable in this community in a vain search for buy-in from the most reactionary. While you are correct in calling enlarged community input, that cannot be used as an excuse to delay needed action supported by the last election. The City Council has become clearly divided between a reactionary minority led by Mayor Watkins, Councilmembers Mathews and Myers and City Manager Martin Bernal. You have chosen repeatedly to tip the scales in favor of this cabal.

You are invited to the 10-23 or 10-30 meeting of Conscience and Action or HUFF any time between 11 and 1 PM at the Sub Rose Cafe to discuss these issues and clarify your objectives and intentions. If you ignore this invitation as you have in the past, we will be scheduling a public meeting to encourage direct action to raise the issues above with the entire community.

While these criticisms are unsparing and unpleasant to face, I suspect they come as no surprise to you, as they have been made publicly at City Council meetings. I urge you to reconsider your actions, make yourself accessible, and restore your reputation among Progressives.

Please let us know in advance if you'll be attending either meeting.

Robert Norse

P.S. If you feel any of the facts and claims made in this letter are inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading, please respond with an e-mail clarifying your position and correcting any misstatements.

One angry member of the City's CACH Committee is tired of waiting for Louden Nelson to reopen its bathrooms and the lack of bathrooms and portapotties citywide. She was also concerned at the failure of CACH to demand immediate Council action restoring bathroom access there. CACH still plans to hold its regular meetings at Louden Nelson, even though other progressive groups (Councilmember Glover, the ACLU) have deliberately moved rather than implicitly support Iseth Rae's discriminatory policy.

Though chastised by a CACH co-chair for bringing a pee bottle to the latest CACH meeting and proposing the same be done to City Council, she brought the issue to Conscience and Action and HUFF and secured our agreement to support her at the 7 PM Oral Communications period of City Council on October 22nd.

Last year, Keith McHenry, local FNB activist, funded a portapotty at the Town Clock/Post Office area. It was quickly removed by City authorities. He, Phil Posner, and Steve Pleich requested the City authorize a permitting process. This was something proposed as far back as January by Councilmember Glover, then buried by Mayor Watkins (and Vice-Mayor Cummings).

McHenry repeated his request by e-mail last week and unexpectedly received replies from Cummings and the powerful City Manager Martin Bernal, asking for specific sites and information. In response, he, Posner, and Conscience and Action co-founder Nick Whitehead decided to "hold off" signing on a critical demand letter to the Vice-Mayor.

The proposed pee-presentation may enlighten a fact-challenged City Council. Or possibly prompt middle-class outrage at "the very idea" of peepee at City Council. Some activists may be presenting bottles which may or may not contain what homeless folks aren't allowed to do at Louden Nelson that others do regularly in the privacy of their homes. Why not present the tangible evidence to those in power rather than despoil the environment?

Four years ago, City Manager Martin Bernal closed the City Hall bathrooms at night and then during the day as well as part of an attack on the Freedom Sleepers movement. For over 48 months, those bathrooms have generally be locked against the public. It is now a crime to sleep on the City Hall grounds after business hours. Even holding up a sign quietly is a criminal offense. The grass has all been removed. Surveillance cameras have been placed around the grounds.

Cummings to his credit, reopened the City Hall bathrooms during business hours--something perhaps showing more concern for tourists and those doing business there than for homeless folks. However, the Vice-Mayor also refused to revese the anti-homeless Louden Nelson bathroom closures of March 2018.

Instead he suggested Supervisor Rae "compassionately" respect elders and seniors, which she took pains to immediately clarify she would not do ("one policy for all").. Indeed, Seniors report the bathrooms have remained closed to them, if they show up after the Senior meal. Those not in her programs, must apparently dispose of their wastes in the bushes, hope that the SCPD bathrooms are open a block away, or trek several blocks to the Metro or the Depot Park. Or they can await "compassion" from the CACH recommendations not officially due until sometime after Christmas.

Showing the Council what homeless people have to do nightly, given their malign neglect of bathroom access is both fair and shocking. It should be noted that more radical proposals like a Shit-In, have for the moment, been set aside in hopes that the Council will sniff the air and get the message.
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Ursula G Reed
Tue, Feb 4, 2020 6:43PM
Robert Norse
Wed, Dec 11, 2019 8:02AM
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