More homeless camps cleared in Santa Cruz

by Stephen Baxter
Santa Cruz Sentinel 08/08/2012

SANTA CRUZ – Santa Cruz police cleared out 15 illegal campsites and arrested 20 people in the fourth week of a program aimed at reducing homeless camps.

Officers also issued 67 tickets for illegal camping and related charges from July 29 to Aug. 4.

Police spokesman Zach Friend said the arrests were mainly for drug charges, including one case of suspected meth sales. Another person was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property.

Twenty-nine camps were posted with warnings to vacate, police said.

Resident complaints have fueled the campaign, as well as concerns of poor sanitation, environmental problems and recent fires related to the camps. Friend said many of the camps are hideouts for criminal activity.

Since the project began in July, police have posted 115 notices to leave and dismantled 42 campsites. They also have issued 245 citations and made 70 arrests.

Santa Cruz police ask residents to report illegal campsites by calling 420-5892.

The Homes Of The Homeless

Joel Hersch — Good Times

08 August 2012

news1-1Santa Cruz police near the end of a campaign to clear out illegal campsites

On a narrow strip of land between Highway 1 and Plymouth Street, Santa Cruz police officers Barnaby Clark, Mike Huynh and Sgt. Dan Flippo fan out as they approach a dingy blue tent with a maroon blanket draped over it.

Huynh draws his gun and holds it ready by his hip as Flippo calls out, “Police! Anybody home?”

No answer.

Flippo pulls back the tent’s flap and carefully peeks inside while Huynh covers him. No one is home.

As the tension eases, Huynh holsters his weapon.

These three officers form the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) task force whose mission is to eradicate illegal campsites—which many homeless people call home—that are hidden around the city. By the second week of the 30 to 45-day campaign, many of the camps have already been disbanded, says Flippo, a brawny man who has served 20 years with the SCPD.

“A lot of them have caught wind of this and moved out, farther into the county,” he says.

Even so, the officers are very cautious when making contact with a campsite, always entering one with several officers present.

“We don’t know what’s in there,” Huynh says. “If they’re a drug user, they might think there’s someone coming to steal their stash, so they’re going to protect it.”

Huynh, who is in his sixth year with the SCPD, was involved in a physical altercation at a campsite near the San Lorenzo River Levee the week before our interview and had to call for backup.

“You have to be careful because we’re kind of going into someone’s home,” Flippo says.

news1-2Santa Cruz Police Sgt. Dan Flippo at one of more than 86 illegal campsites the police have indentified so far in their current effort to curb illegal camping. The SCPD, in partnership with the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation and Public Works Department, began the initiative to crack down on the homeless campsites on July 9 after receiving many new complaints from community members. Neighborhood residents have reported thefts that they think are related to people living at nearby campsites.

In addition to piles of trash left over at the empty encampments, police have also found many stolen bicycle parts. Flippo says homeless campers will often steal bikes, take them apart and sell the pieces to buy drugs.

Fire, sanitation and public safety have also become a growing concern, he says.

When the officers visit a newly reported campsite, they issue a Municipal Code citation and give the campers 72 hours to leave, according to Flippo.

He adds that the work can be frustrating because many of the people living in the camps do not take citations seriously. Many just crumple up the pieces of paper and throw them out, knowing from experience that the court will not issue a bench warrant for an illegal camping infraction.

Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone explains that the city adopted an ordinance in 2009 declaring that people who ignore three citations in six months receive a misdemeanor, and the court will issue a warrant for a misdemeanor.

“That will allow the officer to take the person into custody and that person will have to go to court and be arraigned and prosecuted,” Barisone says. “What we’ve learned is that once an individual is arrested and spends a few days in jail, they are immediately aware that there are consequences for their actions, and we either don’t see them again because they change their behavior or they leave town.”

Flippo says that, in reality, the prosecution process is still extremely aggravating. He says even if a perpetrator does go to jail for a few nights, he often runs into them again at other illegal campsites.

“Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of repercussion,” he says. “It’s mostly just an inconvenience for them to have to move their camps.”

Clark says the majority of the people in the camps they have shut down are living this way to distance themselves from law enforcement, engage in criminal activity and feed a drug addiction.

“These are people who are living this lifestyle long-term,” Clark says. “These aren’t people who have been stuck out on the street by circumstance.”

Flippo says he tries to advise homeless campers of resources available for them through the city or county, but that many of them choose not to seek help. Then there are a number of people who cannot utilize resources like soup kitchens because they have caused problems in the past, he says.

After leaving the first site between Highway 1 and Plymouth Street, the officers move on to check out another camp located near The Fishhook, at the point where Highway 1 and Highway 17 diverge. The people at the camp were issued a citation a few days earlier and Flippo wants to make sure they actually left.

Flippo calls the tree-lined space between the two roads “The Triangle.” It was the location of more than 14 campsites the previous week, with anywhere from one to five people living in each.

Seventy-two hours after police issued citations, Cal Trans personnel came in and cleared out the entire area, which Flippo says was covered in human feces and was a major biohazard.

In the middle of the triangle-shaped section of land is an open cement culvert, which Flippo explains flows directly into the ocean.

He motions at it and asks, “Do you surf?”

I say yes.

“Well, trust me,” he says. “Don’t surf the River Mouth. All this flushes down right through there.”

Flippo, who also surfs, has avoided the River Mouth for years because of how much human excrement he discovered was flowing directly into the surf zone.

Despite the task force’s recent efforts, Flippo knows that many of the same people from these campsites will set up new ones in other parts of the county. He has heard there might be a new camp near Dominican Hospital, but that is outside of the SCPD’s jurisdiction.

Some popular campsite hotbeds have included the San Lorenzo River Levee, Pogonip Park, Arana Gulch and Harvey West Park.

While busting campsites, Flippo says that they located some people who had outstanding warrants, including one man camped out in Harvey West who was wanted for three years, a sex offender who had failed to register and another who was in possession of several knives while on a no-weapons probation.

By the third week of the campaign, police identified 86 campsites, issued 178 citations, made 50 arrests and cleared 27 sites, according to Santa Cruz police spokesman Zach Friend. The pilot project will end within the next two weeks, adds Friend, but could be restarted after an evaluation is complete.

Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane understands the need to put a stop to illegal camping due to the immediate problems it causes, but he says it reinforces his own desire to help provide the homeless with legal places to call home.

One way the city is currently attempting to do this is with its 180/180 campaign, which seeks to permanently house 180 vulnerable homeless people.

Phil Kramer, who is the 180/180 campaign project manager, explains that the camps are, in part, a survival mechanism for homeless people. They offer people living on the streets a sense of community and safety in numbers, he says.

While he understands that the police have to do their job, Kramer says that evicting people from these campsites is very much like going into anyone else’s home and making them leave.

“Where ever it may be, our home is our sanctuary,” he says. “It’s our safe place, and that place is really in the eye of the beholder. Some of us have something with sturdy walls, and a well made roof and in-door plumbing. And other people—the place they call home is much more fragile and much more tenuous.”

UC Santa Cruz teacher and homeless advocate Franklin Williams agrees. “We need to not lose sight of all people’s rights and property protections, not just homeowners and businesses,” Williams says.

Lane says it is not clear cut that these people are trying to avoid society so that they can engage in criminal activity, but rather that they are lacking a place in society.

“My question is, are we helping people who are living in those terrible conditions to find a pathway out, or are we just moving them around?” Lane says. “As a community, if we don’t create some opportunity for these folks to live a different way, they’re going to live on the margins. This will be an improvement for our immediate situation, but as far as changing their lives, I think it will take much more.”

Day laborers fill a need

SC Sentinel “As You See It” 08-07-12

I must disagree with Julia Hansen’s recent letter protesting the day labor center. I’ve worked in construction for 25 years, and the jobs the day labor center will connect workers to are mainly jobs most other folks wouldn’t do. These are low-paying hard jobs with no benefits other than some hard earned cash in your pocket [not much]. If I thought these jobs were being given to undocumented workers at the expense of those here legally I would agree with you, Julia, but that’s not been my experience.

Mike Anderson, Aptos

As Greece Rounds Up Migrants, Official Says ‘Invasion’ Imperils National Stability

NY Times: August 6, 2012

Angelos Tzortzinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Immigrants being detained in central Athens on Sunday. About 6,000 people were held in a police operation over the weekend.



ATHENS — A vast police operation here aimed at identifying illegal immigrants found that, of 6,000 people detained over the weekend, 1,400 did not have proper documentation, leading the minister of public order to say that Greece was suffering an “unprecedented invasion” that was threatening the stability of the debt-racked nation.

The minister, Nikos Dendias, defended the mass detentions, saying that a failure to curb a relentless flow of immigrants into Greece would lead the country, which is surviving on foreign loans, to collapse. “Our social fabric is at risk of unraveling,” Mr. Dendias told a private television channel, Skai. “The immigration problem is perhaps even greater than the financial one.”

He said he would resign if he was obstructed. “There would be no point in me staying on,” he said. That appeared to be a warning to left-wing opposition parties, one of which called the operation a pogrom.

About 4,500 officers conducted raids on streets and in run-down apartment blocks in central Athens, a police spokesman said, calling the sweep one of the largest ever by the force. Eighty-eight Pakistanis were flown back home on a chartered flight on Sunday, said the spokesman, who spoke on the standard ground rules of anonymity. He said more deportations were expected in the coming days.

With its position on the southeastern flank of the European Union, Greece has long been the most common transit country for impoverished migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But the global economic malaise and the revolutions of the Arab Spring have sharply increased the flow of migrants, and the government has been calling for more help from the European Union.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised to crack down on illegal immigration in campaigning before the general elections in June, which his conservative New Democracy party won by a small margin, followed by Syriza, the party that denounced the weekend operation. But no mass efforts had been made before that, fueling the fury of ascendant right-wing groups.

Last week, the authorities decided to transfer hundreds of officers to Greece’s land border with Turkey, a popular route for smugglers sneaking migrants from Africa and Asia into the country for a fee. Many of those officers have been moved to border guard duty from the security details of politicians as part of an overhaul of the force. The reinforcements were sent amid fears of an increased influx of refugees from Syria, where political tumult has devolved into civil war.

The growing population of immigrants in Greece — about 800,000 are registered, and an estimated 350,000 or more are in the country illegally — adds to the anxieties of many Greeks, who are seeing the government’s once-generous social spending evaporate. They complain that the foreign residents are depriving them of jobs and threatening the national identity.

Such frustrations have been exploited politically, notably by Golden Dawn, a far-right group that has been widely linked to a rising number of apparently racially motivated assaults but vehemently denies being a neo-Nazi group. Once obscure, it drew 7 percent of the vote in the June elections.

The party has called for the immediate deportation of all immigrants and has accused Mr. Samaras of reneging on his pre-election promises to curb illegal immigration. The party has won public support through a range of initiatives, including the distribution of free food, but only for those who can show Greek identity cards.

Man slugs officer during arrest

Cathy Kelly

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   08/05/2012

A 42-year-old transient was arrested Saturday morning after he became belligerent with a police officer who contacted him for smoking in a non-smoking area near the wharf and then slugged the officer, police said.

Nicholas O’Donnell was arrested about 9 a.m. near Beach Street and Pacific Avenue, Lt. Bernie Escalante said.

When an officer contacted O’Donnell about smoking, the officer noticed that O’Donnell had slurred speech and other signs of intoxication, Escalante said.

O’Donnell became verbally abusive and told the officer he had better call for back-up and then punched him in the face, Escalante said.

O’Donnell was booked on suspicion of public intoxication, resisting arrest and battering a peace officer, Escalante said.

It is his ninth arrest for public intoxication since March, Escalante said.

Police find 120 pot plants, cocaine in Scotts Valley home

Cathy Kelly

Santa Cruz Sentinel:   08/05/2012

SCOTTS VALLEY — A 39-year-old man was arrested Friday after officers served a search warrant at his home and discovered about 120 marijuana plants in various stages of development, plus an undisclosed amount of cash and cocaine, police said.

Police obtained a search warrant for the home after receiving information about possible drug sales there, police said.

Matthew Scott Ladage was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana and possession of cocaine, police said.

Officers provided scant details in a press release Saturday evening. They did not state the location of the home. Sunday, a supervising officer who could discuss the case was not available until 7 p.m., dispatchers said.

S.F. police should have stun guns

SF Chronicle Editorial – Sunday, August 5, 2012

San Francisco’s Police Commission should not hesitate any longer in giving officers the ability to use a weapon that could improve public safety and save lives.

Police Chief Greg Suhr has renewed the department’s request for permission to use stun guns. The chief has proposed a pilot program in which the devices would be issued to a limited number of officers who have undergone crisis intervention training.

The commission should be putting officers in position to do their jobs as professionally and humanely as possible. Suhr, like his predecessor George Gascón, has suggested there are times when a stun gun can be the best alternative to lethal force against a threatening suspect.

Critics of stun guns point to instances when the jolt can be deadly – especially on suspects who have heart conditions or are high on certain drugs – and worry that they could be used disproportionately against minorities and the mentally ill.

The introduction of stun guns should be accompanied by training and careful monitoring – which is exactly what Suhr intends to do with this pilot program.

San Francisco is one of the last American cities to equip its force with stun guns. The police commission needs to stop dragging its feet.


Protesters damage Obama Oakland office

Demian Bulwa – S. F. Chronicle
Saturday, August 4, 2012

Protesters smashed a large window at President Obama’s re-election campaign office in downtown Oakland late Friday night, tore down a nearby fence and vandalized cars, according to police, witnesses and video footage.

Staffers and volunteers were inside the Organizing for America office at 1714 Telegraph Ave. when it was vandalized after 9 p.m., but no one was hurt, said a staffer who declined to be identified. The office is a joint effort of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

When the window was broken, well over 100 people had joined what began as a rally against the city’s handling of growing crowds at the first-Friday-of-the-month event called Art Murmur, a gallery crawl centered in the Uptown arts district from 6 to 9 p.m.

Protesters – who included Occupy Oakland activists – said the city was cracking down on vendors and performers who came into the neighborhood during the gallery crawl without permits. Until June, the galleries had closed down a block of 23rd Street, but the approach got too expensive and hectic.

Danielle Fox, who directs Art Murmur and owns a gallery called Slate Contemporary, said of the vandalism: “It’s very unfortunate and we’re very concerned, because our commitment is that when people come to visit the galleries, they should have a safe and positive cultural experience.”

City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said the frequency of vandalism at downtown protests was “unacceptable” and hurt restaurants and other businesses.

“It’s continuing to be bad publicity for us and the merchants trying to revitalize downtown,” he said. “Art Murmur is something that is getting bigger and becoming a destination for people. Obviously, this is something that is not good for the city.”

The vandalism happened a little more than a day after someone damaged two Oakland police cars near City Hall and attempted to break a window at a police station early Thursday.

A group calling itself the East Bay Uncontrollables said it was responsible for the attack and called it a reaction to a federal investigation into anarchist activity.

Lauren Smith, a 30-year-old activist, said the goal of Friday’s demonstration was to “create a space where people could have their social gatherings without asking permission from the city and the police department.”

She said she was not at the rally but watched it live online. She said she did not agree with vandalizing cars, but that the window-smashing at the campaign office was justified.

“People feel betrayed by Obama. … I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now,” she said. “Oakland is a place where people are really struggling. When the pressure is released just a little bit, you see people go after those things that they see as responsible for the conditions.”

Argentina celebrates bond payoff as end of an era

by MICHAEL WARREN (Associated Press Writer Almudena Calatrava contributed to this story.)
Associated Press 8/2/2012

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Bond payoffs are supposed to be boring, but Argentina’s president is celebrating Friday’s final $2.3 billion payment on a bond given to people whose savings were confiscated a decade ago, calling it a lesson for European countries now mired in foreign debt.

The nation’s economic disaster left thousands with a grim choice after the government seized their dollar-denominated deposits to stop bank runs in 2002. They could switch to devalued pesos and regain access to what was left of their savings, or accept a piece of paper promising to repay the money in dollars over the next 10 years.

Few had any faith in the government’s promises back then. Argentina had just defaulted on more than $100 billion in foreign debt, banks were shuttered, the economy was in ruins and streets were filled with pot-banging protesters whose chants of “throw them all out” would send five presidents packing.

But Argentina has mostly paid up after all, making good on 92.4 percent of that defaulted debt so far, including $19.6 billion in U.S. currency over the years to cancel the Boden 2012 bond. Most of the hard-luck account-holders later sold the bonds at a loss, but as the government makes its last $2.3 billion payment on Friday, the few stalwarts who kept the faith have been made whole, while earning a modest 28 percent profit over the years.

“It was good business” for anyone who got the bonds early and held them, said Jorge Oteiza, a bond trader with Banco Comafi in Argentina. “To have the same buying power you had back then isn’t bad.”

President Cristina Fernandez praised her government for meeting its commitments and blamed multinational financial institutions for the debt crises that afflicted Argentina back then and threaten Europe today.

“This is the money that the banks should have returned to the Argentine citizens,” she said during a national address from the Buenos Aires stock exchange Thursday night. Showing charts and rattling off numbers, she argued that her government has shown the world how to emerge from default without imposing austerity measures, while growing its economy and strengthening the social safety net.

This debt relief “has given us an immense independence from the activity of the market,” she said to applause from the hundreds of guests she had invited onto the exchange floor.

Argentina’s foreign-currency debt has dropped from a daunting 166 percent of GDP at the end of 2002 to a more manageable 42 percent of GDP at the end of 2011, said Ramiro Castineira of the Econometrica consulting firm. “If before it was a burden to shoulder, now it’s just a handbag. It doesn’t restrict the economy as it did in the past,” he said.

However, the debt has grown in nominal terms during the same period, from $137 billion to $179 billion.

Many economists suggest the official story is misleading at best, since the government has refused to pay billions of dollars in other bad debts while borrowing freely within Argentina, taking money from pension funds, provinces, state-owned banks and the central reserve to stimulate the economy and reduce its foreign debt exposure.

In her determination to make Argentina financially independent, critics say Fernandez has only shifted the debt burden onto her citizens, imposing terms that could stunt the country’s future growth. For example, the government promised to pay negative 0.25 percent interest over 10 years for the $27.9 billion it took from the central bank for debt relief.

“It’s wonderful to see Argentina pay down debt, but for every dollar they’re paying down, they’re borrowing two or three through the other window, and increasingly from their own people,” said Arturo Porzecanski, an expert on emerging markets at American University in Washington.

Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino proudly described the Argentine recipe in a column Wednesday published by Telam, the government news agency: Spurn the requirements of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Strong-arm the so-called “vulture funds” into accepting lower returns on their risky bets. Nationalize private pension plans, the airline and now the YPF oil company, putting their assets to use creating jobs. And tap central bank reserves to pay down international debts.

Frozen out of international markets as a consequence of the 2002 default, this government made breaking their rules a point of pride, Lorenzino suggested.

“At first, they called us heretics and the international community turned its back on us,” he recalled. But “this government makes policies today without conceding to international pressure, thinking first of those on the inside, and later on those outside.”

Lorenzino has said this government will not take on more international debts. Not that it could: Friday’s payoff still doesn’t resolve nearly $7.5 billion it owes the U.S. and other Paris Club nations, or the $11.2 billion claimed in U.S. courts by bond holdouts.

Argentina also owes millions in court judgments to U.S. companies, and Spain’s Repsol Group wants $10.5 billion for its shares in YPF that Fernandez expropriated this year. Many of these investors would try to seize any newly borrowed money before it reaches Buenos Aires.

Lorenzino suggested that Argentina’s renegade approach makes it better prepared to confront global crises because the portion of its debt held by the private sector has dropped from 124 percent of GDP a decade ago to 14 percent last year. “This was possible only under the concept of economic independence, political sovereignty and social justice,” Lorenzino wrote.

But this shift from private to public debt means that the government is essentially borrowing from Argentine taxpayers and bank account holders to stimulate its economy, at rates far below inflation, which is estimated at 25 percent a year or more. Unless this changes soon, the money could run out and there will be few other places to turn for help.

“This is no longer an ‘us-versus-them’ problem,” Porzecanski said. “At first they went after the big multinationals, then the ‘filthy-rich bondholders,’ then powerful institutions like the IMF. Now it has become a fight for financial resources within Argentina. That’s why I think the end is coming.”

Guilty pleas in Cudahy bribery case

Associated Press
Thursday, August 2, 2012

Los Angeles

David Silva, the former mayor of Cudahy, stood before a federal judge Thursday and admitted he accepted a $5,000 bribe in exchange for his support of a medical marijuana dispensary.

When asked outside court why he took the cash, Silva sheepishly said, “Greed, I guess.”

Silva, 61, and ex-Cudahy Councilman Osvaldo Conde each pleaded guilty to single counts of extortion and bribery that carry up to 30 years in prison. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced in November.

The two men, along with onetime City Manager Angel Perales, solicited and accepted $17,000 after meetings with the dispensary owner, who was working as an FBI informant. Perales pleaded guilty this week to similar charges.

Silva said it was a “stupid mistake” to take the bribe from the pot shop owner earlier this year. “It’s something I have to live with,” he said.

Conde, hands in his pockets as he left the courtroom, declined to comment.

The arrests are the latest in a series of corruption scandals involving small Los Angeles County cities. The former city manager and several other officials from neighboring Bell are awaiting trial on charges of misappropriating funds to overpay themselves.

On Tuesday, two former Lynwood City Council members were found guilty of illegally boosting their salaries and racking up inappropriate bills on city credit cards.

Court documents in the Cudahy case portrayed the suburb of 25,000 people as a corruption-riddled municipality where “money makes the monkey dance,” Perales once told the dispensary owner, according to court documents.

Conde, 50, was deemed the most powerful man in Cudahy by Perales, who said Conde and Silva weren’t typical elected officials.

“They’ve dealt with, uh, you know, people that throw money down,” Perales told the dispensary owner, according to an affidavit.

The approval of a medical marijuana dispensary, which had been prohibited in Cudahy, could have raked in huge profits. The informant estimated the clinic could generate up to $2.5 million within a year. The proposed dispensary never came before the council for approval.

As part of their plea agreements, Silva and Perales can’t be prosecuted for any crimes that arise out of related investigations, federal prosecutors said. In court documents filed in the bribery case, authorities said both men accepted cash bribes from a developer and Perales helped discard absentee ballots in two elections that supported candidates who challenged incumbents. Those accusations were not related to the proposed dispensary.