Monterey Crowd Defends Homeless Rights; Council Backtracks Slightly

  • NOTES BY NORSE: Indybay writer and videojournalist Alex Darocy and I were at the Monterey City Council meeting last night.  The agenda seemed designed to drive away by exhaustion  homeless people and advocates who packed the chamber.   The homeless issue was split in half between proposed noxious anti-homeless ordinances “to be studied” and solutions “to be discussed” with other candytreats-for-the-hotel-owners agenda items shoved in front of the two  homeless topics.    As a result Alex and I only stayed until 11 AM when discussion of the first item had finally concluded.   The people won two out of three–with any “study” of the Sit/Lie Ban thrown out, but likely “no smoking downtown and on the wharf” and “no parking overnight” laws to come out of new studies–passed by the Council.

Mayor Della Sala seemed markedly more tolerant than past Santa Cruz panjandrums, which may have been due to the size and restiveness of the audience.   He warned people not to clap, which resulted in sustained clapping in response to his warning.   I made the occasional off-hand “First Amendment!” shout (but no “don’t act like a Nazi” salutes).  Santa Cruz mayors have similarly tried to “quiet the public”, claiming it’s “disrespectful” and “takes up too much time.”   No doubt in Santa Cruz soon we’ll hear it’s a ‘Public Safety hazard” or as former Mayor Fitzmaurice warned, “it frightens away the public” for folks to be too demonstrative.                                                                                 

Unlike Santa Cruz, Monterey City Council rules “allow” community members to require a separate voice and discussion on Consent Agenda matters which prolonged the meeting, but provided a shadow of real democracy, long absent from Santa Cruz City Council meetings.  Councilmember Alan Haffa, a professor and sometime Occupy Monterey Peninsula member was often outspoken in opposition to anti-homeless measures.  He also, however, had a usual Liberal Control Freak aspect to him, where he was impatient of other  views, desireous of combining items to cut short testimony (though with an understandable objective of  getting testimony before people collapsed from exhaustion), difficult to access individually).

Police were in the chamber, but their response to a rather annoying if sincerely motivated homeless interrupter was to talk with him, escort him outside at one point, allow him back in, and generally show far more respect than  has traditionally been shown to discordant voices in Santa Cruz.

To view the public and City Council discussion of the homeless items in question (Items #10 and 16), go to where the videos will be available after May 24th,   according to the city manager’s office there. Check out the Afternoon and Evening Sessions of the May 22nd meeting as well as the April 24th Homelessness Study Session.    Some of the testimony is moving, some annoying, but there is not a single mention of “needles” at least on the 22nd.  Looks like Take Back Santa Cruz hasn’t established a Take Back Monterey chapter yet.

Monterey: Laws that push homeless out criticized

Herald Staff Writer
Posted:   05/21/2013 11:10:12 PM PDT
Updated:   05/22/2013 08:50:37 AM PDT


Click photo to enlarge

A standing-room audience appears at the Monterey City Council… (REG REGALADO/Herald Correspondent)
Question of the Day
Should aggressive panhandlers be arrested?

The Monterey City Council got an earful on Tuesday as it waded into an emotional debate about the city’s homeless.

A standing-room-only crowd, many of them homeless and their advocates, tore into three possible laws that one woman said would simply try to push homeless people out of Monterey.

She said the city should have parks and places where the homeless could safely sleep overnight.
Dozens of people came to the meeting to speak their mind.

Police Chief Phil Penko kicked off what would be a long night, with a run-down on a trio of new laws that he said could help the community feel safer amid mushrooming complaints about homeless people.

He said police are getting more complaints about theft, vandalism, panhandling, disposal of human waste and groups of people blocking sidewalks with aggressive dogs. He showed a flier made by a community member with the headline, “Get the bums out of Monterey.”

One proposal would expand city bans on overnight parking in new areas. Another proposal would create no-smoking zones, possibly downtown and at Fisherman’s Wharf. The most controversial, a so-called sit-lie law, would make it a crime to sit or lie on sidewalks and other public places.

Penko said he wasn’t recommending any of the proposals, but was offering the council possible law enforcement options used in other communities.

At the same time, Penko said, “You can’t enforce the law just because someone is homeless.”
Most of the speakers asked the

council to take a more humane approach. One woman said the city shouldn’t act on prejudice or blame the homeless for community fears.

One man said, “First do no harm, and then do good.”

One resident said the city could establish overnight parking in appropriate city facilities. He said Santa Barbara has an established program that works with service providers.

City Manager Fred Meurer said the council had a tough job, listening to those testifying and to residents who weren’t at the meeting.

A couple of speakers tore into panhandlers. One downtown property owner said, “Everyone is talking about the rights of panhandlers. What about the rights of businesses?”

City Councilman Alan Haffa took issue with the city attorney’s caution that any of the laws couldn’t specifically target homeless people.

“Then why was 95 percent of the chief’s presentation about homelessness?” Haffa said.

City Councilwoman Libby Downey said council members have received hundreds of emails and letters about panhandling and other issues.

But after two and a half hours, with one man snoring in the back of the room, the council wanted no part of a sit-lie ordinance.

“I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole,” Councilman Frank Sollecito said.

The council did want to look at a smoking ban on Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown.

The council said it wanted to look at more overnight-parking restrictions in commercial areas while the city looks into a safe overnight parking program.


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