Familiar anti-homeless language like “nuisance crime” and “illegal behavior” are the usual code words for harassing and expelling homeless people from public spaces in a city with no available shelter for hundreds. The same words peppered the staff presentation (See http://scsire.cityofsantacruz.
The proposed law will include not just anyone within 300′ of a school, but anyone in any of the following parks as well as any adjacent sidewalks and public spaces: Arana Gulch, Neary Lagoon, Depot Park, Poets Park, Beach Flats Park, Harvey West Park, Pogonip (Open Space), Louden Nelson Park, Sergeant Derby Park, Mission Plaza Park, Star of the Sea Park, Moore Creek (Open Space), University Terrace Park .
If you’re given a citation — even it’s unjustified, and dropped short of court — you are banned from the area (and other prior areas if you’ve received citations) for 72 hours. If you return you face up to a year in jail and $1000 fine.
Since 2013, the use of “we don’t need to charge you in court” Stay-Away orders, have systematically and specifically impacted, if not targeted, homeless folks.
The “crime wave” being addressed is the usual: sleeping, being in a park after dark, smoking. Hundreds of citations and stay away orders were issued to folks.
No actual specifics regarding these “crimes” are provided in the staff report. Nor are there any particulars of the great threat to the schools that is used to label this grotesque expansion of police power.
It also provides massive police powers to criminalize protesters and outspoken Council critics, particularly homeless ones. The earlier 24-hour/1week Stay Away order was one device used to drive away Freedom Sleepers and the Survival Sleepers from City Hall.
Second reading will be required at the next Council meeting which may give folks a little organizing time to speak against it in two weeks when it reappears for a rubberstamping.
This wording is horrendous in and of itself. It means if you are, say, given three infraction citations in three different places over the course of three days (or even three weeks, if the second ticket happens within a week of the first), the Stay-Away law empowers police to ban you for three months from all three areas.
All before you’ve gone to court to get a “fair trial”. And if you get a 4th ticket anytime within the next 18 months in any park or other area covered by MC 13.08.100, you can be banned for 1 1/2 years from all 4 areas. If at any time, you violate this police-imposed ban any time during these periods, you face a possible year in jail or $1000 fine. The standard fines are $200-400 for the original infraction crime.
RUBBERSTAMP “APPEAL” PROCESS COVERS CITY MANAGER’S ASS
The phony process for “appealing” a Stay-Away order involves going before an appointee of City Manager Martin Bernal, whose employees are the cops and rangers testifying against you if you file an “appeal” within 1 day. There are no “rules of evidence”, no official record of the proceeding, no provision permitting an audio recording, no right for the public or media to be present–in other words, no due process. Doo-doo process indeed.
The standard of proof is different before the City Manager’s kangaroo court–it’s “preponderance of the evidence” (51%) unlike the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of the courts. Hence you can be improperly banned for weeks from public property (particularly important for homeless people trying to survive by hiding out) before you get your court trial. And then even if found innocent, there’s no provision for reversing the Stay-Away.
To read the specifics of the “in-house” appeal of Stay-Away orders process, go to MC 13.08.100(b) at http://www.codepublishing.com/
We’ve heard a token squeak or two from our timid local ACLU– whose regional and national affiliates have quadrupled their cash reserves since the Trump victory protest. As for actually sending volunteers to help folks expose this travesty? We’re still waiting.
Courts, of course, provide little real protection from infractions, even if you trek to and from the courthouse waiting for the citation to appear, getting to the arraignment, going to the trial. The overwhelming majority of unhoused folks getting the infraction citations that accompany the Stay-Away orders have neither time, energy, nor resources to do this.
In an infraction case, you get a “judge” rather than a jury trial. You face toxically police-partial judges–even if you disqualify the Dept. 10 Commissioner and send the case to a “real” judge. And even with video documentation of false claims, selective enforcement, and/or harassment by police or rangers, the “real” judges convicted activists Abbi Samuels and Keith McHenry in two separate trials recently. This had the appearance of being part of the City Manager/SCPD campaign to drive away peaceful Freedom Sleeper protesters and Survival Sleeper homeless from City Hall. Even from the half of the sidewalks adjacent where they slept every Tuesday night in protest.
Infraction cases normally go to the Commissioner in Dept. 10, previously the notorious Brimstone Baskett who went to great lengths to provide the semblance of fairness and then finds you guilty. Baskett has now been dumped on us as a “real” judge in Dept. 4. I have no new info on the new Commissioner in Dept. 10 who hears cases.
This latest giveaway to the “homeless get out” crowd at Take Back Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Neighbors, the SCPD, and conservative staffers comes out of the bowels of Vice-Mayor Terrazas’s “Public Safety” Committee. As far as I know, it’s done zero outreach among folks outside to determine the impact of the current Stay-Away law–which has harassed and excluded hundreds of poor people without shelter.
The map showing the dramatically expanded “Stay Away Even Before You Get Charged in Court” zones is at http://scsire.cityofsantacruz.
Terrazas’s sedulous scare narrative whitewashes the actual bigotry agenda of this law. The protective clothing for this bigoted expansion of police power and invitation to vigilante action is “child welfare”–all without any statistical evidence. The boogyman label is “school safety enhancement” . If you examine the map, though, it’s mostly areas beyond the 300′ “safety zone” that suddenly kicks in triple stay-away times. (Again without a court appearance or finding of guilty).
The “evidence” used to back this police power expansion were anecdotal stories from two Take Back Santa Cruz activists who regularly sit in the City Council who’d heard a story about a child being threatened in a park and another eye-witness account of a fight in a park. The only police stats presented in the agenda packet were the “alarming” but actually quite predictable significant percentage of police “calls for service” and “citations” in the parks.
There was no breakdown, of course, as to what those citations were for, whether there were convictions, nor how many were accompanied with stay away orders. The police statistics actually presented were used to dramatize a misleading narrative of “bad behavior”, “failure to maintain behavior standards”, “environmental degradation” and, of course, “public safety for our children” in the park areas.
However HUFF’s detailed study of Parks and Recreation citations for 2013 documents these were status crimes involving non-aggressive survival behavior by homeless people like smoking, sleeping, and being in a park after dark (See “Stay-Away From Human Rights ! An Activist Examines the Escalating Stay-Away Orders Law” at https://www.indybay.org/
More stats on an earlier version of this law are at https://www.indybay.org/
MORE NEXT TIME
Why bother with real evidence and argument when you have a locked-in 5-2 majority on the City Council (it actually passed 4-1 with Brown and Chase absent). It’s hard to believe that rational, reasonable, mellow-sounding people like Vice-Mayor Terrazas seems to be…that they can pass this kind of straightforward repression. Terrazas has been rubberstamping like measure for years, though, through his Public Safety Committee.
Perhaps it’s raw meat thrown to the right-wing constituency, angered at the appearance of increasing numbers of visible homeless people (ironically becoming visible through being driven out of the parks and downtown). The appearance of action without the substance. More laws for useless and unconstitutional police actions.
More on the City Council capers last Tuesday when I muster up the energy. Free Radio Santa Cruz is currently off the air due to equipment problems, but I hope to go into the broader Council meeting in more detail next Sunday.