The Long Foreclosure Fight

Good Times, Wednesday, 23 May 2012 – Patrick Dwire

news1County supervisors urge banks to suspend foreclosures

The state legislature is broken. Not only is it broken, but it has also prevented local governments from doing what can’t seem to get done in Sacramento—such as providing homeowners with legal protection from banks conducting fraudulent foreclosures. That was the consensus of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors at their May 15 meeting, when they adopted a resolution “urging” (but not requiring) local banks to suspend foreclosures until beefed-up, borrower protection laws are passed by the state legislature. The laws are known collectively as the “California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights.”


The county’s resolution, which is almost identical to a resolution adopted by the City and County of San Francisco last month, falls far short of what many housing activists believe is necessary. They would prefer to see the county mandating an outright moratorium on foreclosures until a program of independent legal review and certification of legality is established.

County Counsel Dana McCrea advised the Board of Supervisors that authority to mandate such a moratorium or require more stringent legal review in the foreclosure process is “almost entirely” preempted by current state law, and the county would almost certainly be sued, probably successfully, if it were to adopt such measures.

“This speaks directly to why people have so little faith in government,” Supervisor John Leopold said at the May 15 board meeting, explaining his frustration with the “lack of legal space” at the county level to seriously challenge banks on potentially fraudulent foreclosure practices.

“Not only is the banking lobby making the likelihood of passing the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights very, very low in Sacramento—it comes as no surprise to me that these same moneyed interests have had their way preempting local government from initiating their own, more stringent local protections,” Leopold said.

Apart from the fact there are between 100 and 150 foreclosure filings per month in Santa Cruz County, there are two other developments that have enraged local activists and inspired the pressure they have brought to bear on local politicians for more protection against fraudulent foreclosures. The first is a forensic audit of 382 foreclosures conducted by the City and County of San Francisco Assessor-Recorder that found 82 percent of the foreclosure cases studied were legally defective, with at least one clear violation of law, and a majority had substantial evidence of fraud, including back-dated, “robo-signed” or fabricated documents, as well as false claims of beneficiary status.


news1-2Since the March to Stop Foreclosures (above), which was led by Occupy Santa Cruz’s Foreclosure Working Group in March, the number of local groups and organizations joining in the effort to end the foreclosure crisis continues to grow.

The second development is the drastic reduction in foreclosures in Nevada that are a direct result of a new state law requiring a notarized affidavit of authority, signed by a bank official, as a requirement of filing a foreclosure, along with clear documentation of the bank’s legal right to foreclose. The law includes severe criminal penalties for any fraud. This state law reduced foreclosure filings in Nevada, formally the nation’s leader in foreclosures, by 76 percent since the law took effect last October, according to Foreclosure Radar, a foreclosure data research firm.

“In light of the City of San Francisco’s Assessor’s report,” Supervisor Ellen Pirie said, “I’m incredibly frustrated and angry… I’m shocked that our legal system, which allows banks to foreclose without judicial review but seems to allow these fraudulent activities without any real supervision, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t understand why our state legislators are not as angry as we are, and [aren’t] more willing to do something about it.”

The supervisors aren’t the only ones angry about the recent, stepped-up lobbying against the California Homeowners Bill of Rights by the banking industry in Sacramento. So is Gina Green, a spokesperson for the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), a nonprofit advocacy organization that has been a leader in the fight against predatory lending to low-income communities. After more than three years of hard work advocating for borrower protections in the mortgage industry—protections now included in the California Homeowners Bill of Rights—Green said the frustration is high at CRL because this legislation is getting blocked by a few, key members in the state assembly and senate, both Democrat and Republican, who she says have apparently come under the influence of the banking lobby.

Green says CRL is “ready to take the gloves off, and start naming names of those members in the state legislature who are blocking the California Homeowners Bill of Rights legislation.” She goes on to say that this legislation is desperately needed, as shown by the extent of fraudulent practices brought to light in the nationwide law suit brought by 49 State Attorney Generals against five major banks last year, in which banks finally settled for $24 million in damages in February. But the banking industry continues to have a “near lock of influence in the California State legislature,” Green says.

Growing Grass Roots

Jeri Bodemar, a self-described “old activist” and member of the Santa Cruz Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), says the foreclosure crises just “grabbed her.” As a result, she started doing outreach and organizing and began talking to Joy Hinz, a lead activist and organizer of the local Occupy Foreclosure Working Group.

Hinz, along with several members of the working group that originally spun off from Occupy Santa Cruz, have been attending County Board of Supervisor meetings regularly for the last several months, and encouraging the supervisors during Oral Communications to take action to protect families from foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Bodemar was impressed by a KPFA radio show featuring C.J. Holmes, the founder of Home Owners For Justice, a nonprofit organization waging a statewide information and organizing campaign to stop foreclosures. Bodemar and Hinz invited Holmes, who is also a long time Sonoma County real estate broker, to Santa Cruz, and co-sponsored a recent training workshop and public information event about fraudulent foreclosures practices.

In addition to a training workshop for “citizen fraud investigators,” in which about 10 people were given an overview of what expert foreclosure fraud investigators look for, Holmes gave a three hour presentation to about 50 people at the Quaker Meeting House the evening of May 15, the same day the county supervisors adopted the foreclosure ordinance.

Holmes provided an in-depth analysis of how much the mortgage lending industry has changed over the course of her 25-year career in real estate brokerage, and showed that most of this change, made obvious by the combined Wall Street financial crises and collapse of the real estate market, has been for the worst. Holmes provided a fast but deeply researched summary of how the relatively safe, stodgy, local mortgage lending industry of 30 years ago was transformed into a Wall Street investor-driven casino of mortgage-backed securities, with players from all over the world.

One of the bottom lines, according to Holmes, is that the lack of accountability of banks in the foreclosure process is directly liked to the lack of accountability in the securitization of mortgage-baked securities sold on Wall Street, which was made technically possible by the industry created “MERS” recording system. Because the market crashed so hard and so fast, according to Holmes, banks had to resort to “extra-legal” techniques like robo-signing and forging documents to keep up with foreclosures once the “house of cards” began to collapse.

A key problem that Holmes said should be a “take away” from her talk was that the system continues to collapse, with a huge inventory of unsold, bank-owned homes, and that the idea that housing market will eventually stabilize under these conditions is misguided.

“It’s time for us to get out of the box that banks have put us in,” Hinz said after the presentation. “The banks have been setting us up for years, and gaming the system every step of the way. People are beginning to wake up and realize what’s been done to them, and realizing they can’t win playing by the banks rules.”

UC police arrest 9 as they clear Occupy the Farm

Michael Cabanatuan and Ellen Huet
SF Chronicle, May 15, 2012

A three-week-long protest on UC Berkeley agricultural research land in Albany came to a quiet close early Monday when police cleared out a small group of protesters who had set up an urban farming camp.

University police officers in riot helmets arrested nine people after giving protesters 10 minutes to leave the Gill Tract near Marin and San Pablo avenues about 6:15 a.m. When officers fanned out across the fields, the few protesters who had not obeyed the police order scurried off the property and onto San Pablo, which authorities had closed to traffic.

Two protesters were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, said Lt. Eric Tejada, a police spokesman.

Work crews moved in shortly after 7:30 a.m. and began removing activists’ tents and supplies as several dozen protesters watched from the sidewalk. Seven were arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly after they refused to move off San Pablo Avenue, said Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman.

The Occupy the Farm activists, who are loosely affiliated with the national Occupy Wall Street movement, had agreed to stop sleeping at the camp over the weekend. But most had not left the property and refused to negotiate with UC Berkeley administrators, Tejada said.

“UC has been in long negotiations, but the negotiations have never proven to be fruitful because they (the activists) literally never came to the table,” Tejada said.

Some decide to stay

One of the protesters, Ashoka Finley of Richmond, said he had been standing guard when police arrived. Finley said some protesters had decided they would rather be arrested farming than flee from police.

“We made a conscious decision to be inside,” he said.

Crews used a bulldozer to clear away more of the camp at midday, including a wooden structure frame labeled as a chicken coop. Protesters gathered against a fence and police responded by lining up inside, but no protesters re-entered the tract.

End of standoff

Lesley Haddock, an organizer of the protest, said the group wanted to cultivate crops, not camp on the property.

“We are going to be back on the farm one way or another, either outside looking in or inside cultivating our crops,” she said. “We’re not giving up on this land.”

Monday’s action was the culmination of a standoff that began when activists moved onto the tract April 22 as a protest against planned commercial development and housing nearby. They were pressuring the university to preserve part of the tract, which has been the subject of development debates for years, for agricultural study and urban farming.

The protesters tilled 2 acres on a site used by the College of Natural Resources for research. They planted vegetables, set up a drip system and pitched tents.

Last week, the UC Board of Regents filed a lawsuit against 14 protesters, claiming they and others had conspired to cut through chains that secured gates and trespass onto the Gill Tract.

The suit says a 24-hour-a-day encampment is not consistent with agricultural experiments, and that the demonstrators are delaying an annual corn planting.

“It’s impossible to do good science when you have a few dozen untrained, unsupervised and uninvited guests roaming around an open-air lab,” Mogulof said.

Farr, others to target funding for medical pot crackdown

Jason Hoppin

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   05/07/2012

Rep. Sam Farr wants to tie the federal government’s hands when it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries, joining an effort to cut off funding for a burgeoning statewide crackdown.

Farr, D-Carmel, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., are spearheading a bipartisan effort that should hit the floor of the House of Representatives today. During debate on a bill that funds the Department of Justice, the trio are expected to introduce an amendment barring the use of funds to prevent states from implementing medical pot laws.

“It is time for the federal government to stop targeting the legal vendors that are providing safe access to this treatment, and instead focus limited resources on those who sell illicit drugs,” Farr said. “The amendment I will offer with my colleagues will work to assure funds under the Department of Justice do not target the safe access to treatment patients need.”

Jack Gillund, spokesman for San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, declined to comment.

For months, federal law enforcement officials in California have targeted dispensaries through warning letters and even periodic raids that appeared to target large-scale operations. The crackdown has claimed several renowned dispensaries, which chose to shutter their doors rather than fight on.

Critics say the effort represents a broken promise by President Barack Obama, who previously vowed not to use federal resources on medical marijuana. Obama recently told Rolling Stone magazine his administration doesn’t go after patients, but that it cannot ignore federal law.

About 200 dispensaries have closed across California, including the venerable Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Berkeley Patients Group. Locally, former Mid-County club Crème de Canna, located near a preschool, closed amid speculation that it had received a warning letter from the feds.

Attorney Ben Rice, who represents several local clubs, said the crackdown is being selectively applied, making it difficult for patients everywhere to have access to marijuana.

“You have different readings of the law from one town to the next. The feds get invited from communities where medical marijuana is not welcome,” Rice said. “What we’ve seen happen is some of the really well-organized and patient-based dispensaries have been shut down. You can’t tell me that every single dispensary in Santa Barbara is violating the law.”

Last week, 10 dispensaries in the Santa Barbara area received warning letters from prosecutors. The city of Monterey has passed a moratorium on clubs, while dispensary regulations in Santa Cruz County are suspended due to an ongoing court case.

“Some don’t want medical marijuana around and just call the feds in, and others are targeted because they’re perceived to be hurting law enforcement’s picture,” Rice said. “I think that hurts their narrative. There are some people in law enforcement who still just don’t buy medical marijuana as a legitimate form of medication.”

Though the raids have been criticized by everyone from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., last week California’s congressional delegation began to push back in earnest. On May 2, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a press release blasting the crackdown.

That is being followed by today’s expected action. Even if the effort to tie the Justice Department’s hands is unsuccessful, Rice praised Farr and Rohrabacher for bringing it forward.

“Absolutely,” Rice said. “It’s really important that they speak up.”

Jailing Attorney Ed Frey is an Outrage!

Becky Johnson: One Woman Talking

August 5, 2012

Original Post

Attorney Ed Frey retrieves the Peace Flag from deputies and returns it to Peace Camp 2010 while protester, Vamp, stands by July 13, 2010.   Photo by Becky Johnson

by Becky Johnson

August 5 2012

Santa Cruz, Ca. — Respected local Civil Rights Attorney Ed Frey, has been ordered to report to the Santa Cruz County Jail on Wednesday morning of August 8th at 9AM. He is scheduled to begin serving the remainder of his six month sentence for “lodging” which is a highly-suspect section of the statewide disorderly conduct code. For instance, “lodging” is not defined anywhere in the code section, so law enforcement (and local DA’s and Judges) can interpret what constitutes illegal “lodging” anyway they wish. And since it is a misdemeanor, a violation can result in immediate arrest. Activists consider it an end-run around loitering laws which have largely been declared unconstitutional.

Testimony by several sheriff’s deputies at Ed Frey’s trial cited observing defendants “sleeping” with no other index of criminal activity reported. During the 92 day protest, not a single littering ticket was issued. Ed Frey provided a porto-potty every night as he and hundreds of housed and homeless people alike slept in civil disobedience of laws which criminalize sleeping.

This model of protest was copied and expanded with Occupy Santa Cruz a year later. Ed Frey served on the legal support working group and defended the encampment in court.  In each of these cases, Ed worked tirelessly, providing a powerful voice, setting a moral and ethical framework for dealing with the influx of homeless people who joined the encampment primarily to meet their own physical needs. He even took a pregnant, homeless woman to his home for several nights.

Judge John Gallagher sentenced Frey in a fit of anger he later grew to regret.  The law Ed Frey was primarily focused on opposing was MC 6.36.010 section a, a.k.a. “the Sleeping Ban” for which the maximum fine would have been 8 hours of community service. DA Sara Dabkowski sought 400 hours of community service, which constitutes a 50 fold increase in sentencing. When Ed Frey refused to serve 400 hours of community service, Gallagher angrily sentenced him to the maximum sentence he could issue: 6 months in jail for a 1st offense.

Frey asked to be released on bail pending appeal, only to have Gallagher set bail at $50,000!
Frey served 14 days in jail before being set free at a hearing before a much calmer Judge Gallagher who set bail at $110 which was, apparently, the bail amount for that charge normally.

Frey’s only real chance at appeal took place before appeals court panel, Judge Paul Marigonda and Judge Timothy Volkmann. Marigonda claimed the 6 month sentence was not excessive since he, as a prosecutor, had commonly sent defendants to jail for the maximum sentence when THEY refused community service.  Of course his defendants were involved in domestic violence cases, while Ed Frey was engaged in 1st amendment activities which victimized no one.

The bottom line is it is a CRAZY use of police, court, and jail resources to arrest people for SLEEPING. Be it protestors at a protest or homeless people who can’t afford a roof over their heads. It is wrong. Mean. Cruel. Counter-productive. Selective. It is a human rights abuse done under color of law. And NO ONE who is convicted for sleeping will ever refrain from future sleeping. Sleeping is not a voluntary act.  Every living thing must sleep in order to live. Enforcing a sleeping ban is torturous and causes sickness, mental illness, depression, fatigue, poor immune function and yes, death.  The sleeping ban causes death.

Under these circumstances HOW CAN THEY SLEEP AT NIGHT?

How can DA Bob Lee, County CAO Susan Mauriello, County Counsel Dana McRae, Sheriff Phil Wowack and Judges Gallagher, Connolly, Marigonda, and Commissioner Baskett sleep at night knowing they are the chief conspirators to foment this policy of persecution and judgement.

Attorney Ed Frey made a mockery of our local justice system so that Gallagher had to make up language to feed to his hand-picked jurors in order to get a conviction.  Gallagher even used language cribbed from the 1851 Indiana State Constitution which stated  “No Negro or Mulatto shall come into, or settle in, the State, after the adoption of this Constitution,” when he defined “lodging” as “settling in or living in a place which may include sleeping” as HIS definition of what constituted illegal behavior statewide.

Please attend a protest beginning August 7th at 6PM to oppose the Jailing of Ed Frey. Assert our rights to seek redress of government grievances, our right to peaceably assemble, and our right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment or excessive fines.

The People vs. the 99 Percent

Judge releases four accused in bank occupation, independent media still on trial

William Glad

City on a Hill Press: May 3, 2012

Bradley Allen, a photojournalist for Indybay, is one of the five journalists on trial following the Wells Fargo building occupation. Photo by Nallely Ruiz

Eleven people received arrest warrants in February for their alleged involvement in an occupation of an empty Wells Fargo building on River Street last fall.

On April 25, Judge Paul Burdick ruled there was not enough evidence to bring four of the arrested to trial. But the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office — referred to as “the People” in court — is still prosecuting the remaining seven.

Five of those on trial are journalists, while the other two are media spokespeople for the occupation. The charges they face include felony conspiracy to vandalize and vandalism charges, as well as two misdemeanor counts of trespassing.

If the remaining defendants go to trial, their cases could set a precedent in local law enforcement that might make it difficult for future unsanctioned events like Occupy Santa Cruz to be documented by alternative news outlets.

“People are really being put under a blanket of fear, and it becomes difficult to report clearly what actually happened,” said Robert Norse, a longtime Santa Cruz activist and one of the independent journalists facing charges.

On Nov. 30 of last year, a group in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz took over the vacant Wells Fargo building at 75 River Street with the intent to repurpose the building into a community center. Police posted signs on Dec. 2 warning the protesters they were trespassing and had to leave. On Dec. 3, the protesters were gone.

The accused journalists work for alternative news sources such as Indybay and Free Radio Santa Cruz and argue that they were covering the occupation as a newsworthy event.

The event was covered by other larger local news sources — such as the Santa Cruz Sentinel — but no reporters from these publications face charges.

The DA is primarily relying on police testimony and the arrested photojournalists’ work to demonstrate that the accused entered and remained in the building illegally.

Prosecuting attorney Rebekah Young will have to prove that the defendants continuously occupied the building even after being told by police officers that they were breaking the law and to disperse. In addition, the prosecution has yet to offer substantial evidence of premeditation, crucial to charging an individual with conspiracy.

“It just wasn’t a situation where people were thinking they were really even doing anything wrong. It’s very possible that a lot of people showed up and had no idea what that building was,” said Bradley Allen, an Indybay photojournalist and one of the accused.

Allen said he is not a part of Occupy Santa Cruz, was covering the event in a professional context as he has covered similar events, and did not see or hear any announcements that people were trespassing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Society of Professional Journalists, National Press Photographers Association and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have all issued statements condemning Allen’s prosecution.

Police nationwide have arrested more than 75 journalists covering Occupy-related protests, but most of the cases have been dropped.

“There’s no first amendment exception to criminal acts, and yet virtually no judge that’s had this kind of issue come up in front of him has allowed a prosecution to continue,” said Ben Rice, Allen’s attorney. “They have time and time again thrown out cases against journalists who have been snapped up by law enforcement in the context of covering demonstrations.”

The prosecution has had “chilling” effects on involved individuals and the community, both Allen and Norse said. In addition to imposing great financial expense on both the Santa Cruz city government and those being prosecuted, courtroom proceedings have jeopardized defendants’ jobs, homes and personal relationships.

Despite this challenge for activists and independent journalists nationwide, in the future, Allen said, ““¡Ni un paso atrás! Not one step back, but getting more people to take steps forward, to say that this is wrong and to demand the right to cover the news.”

A rally is planned for May 4 at 1 p.m. at the Santa Cruz courthouse to support those arrested.