More Punches at the Poor on Today’s Council Agenda

HUFFsters might be interested in some commentary on today’s City Council agenda.  The meeting starts extremely early at 9:30 AM (for the Closed Session) and then 10:30 AM (for the Regular Open Session).
The article expands on a recent letter I sent to Mayor Justin Cummings concerning continued City misconduct towards unhoused folks as well as the Council’s general obliviousness and what appears to be the usual stacked agenda, rife for rubberstamping.   Any budget discussions or public debate on the pressing issue of the day–defunding police violence–is not on the agenda, of course.
Today’s agenda for the “public” meeting is largely a ratification of the City Manager’s latest decrees and the unelected city staff’s priorities.

For details on a few of the items, go to:

Or here is the article:

More Punches at the Poor on Today’s Council Agenda by Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at]
Tuesday Sep 22nd, 2020 8:42 AM A recent letter I sent to Mayor Justin Cummings remains largely unanswered. I include some selections as well as a few additional comments bearing on today’s agenda at the “public” meeting–largely a rubberstamp of the City Manager’s latest decrees and the unelected city staff’s priorities. Several items caught my attention in today’s agenda.

Item 7 simply extends the COVID-19 emergency. Some oppose this based on disagreement as to the proper way to find the COVID-19 pandemic, some dispute its toxicity. My concern is rather the extension of fundamentally unaccountable dicatatorial powers given to City Manager Martin Bernal, city employees, and the police/rangers. As a member of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom), I focus on the impact of those outside, but, establishing a defacto dictatorship with only token public input, fundamentally alters the whole political process.

The first was the library burial rubberstamping (Item 12 on the Consent Agenda), covered by Erica Aitken at (“The library/parking garage project is a litmus test for the future of Santa Cruz”) with more information at . Since the library–when it’s open–in spite of increasing restrictions in recent years–has been something of a resting place for homeless folks, many have been concerned that relocating it under a parking garage may make it less friendly, healthy, and accessible.

Noticeable by their absence were any stat updates on the availability of safe sheltering (i.e. motel rooms) during the Coronavirus pandemic situation for unhoused folks. City Manager Bernal and his faithful rubberstampers on the City Council have failed to follow CDC guidelines to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 in the congregate shelters such as the Vet’s Hall, the Armory, Laurel St., and the Paul Lee Loft.

As more tourists flock to the City without adequate testing, contact tracing, vaccine prevention, treatment, etc, the danger for all of us–both the unhoused and the housed remains very real. How much Roomkey and Housekey money was spent? How much remains? How many are still unsheltered? How many were tested? Are tests available to those who ask for them?

Given Cummings’ supposed close collaboration with the County, he has access to direct answers: how much was spent, how it was spent, how many vulnerable folks are actually being housed in safer motel rooms away from congregate settings, how many are not. County health worker Jessica Scheinert declined to follow up with any specifics on the questions several months back.–the amount of money received and spent, how many vulnerable homeless people are being turned away, how many are still in the dangerous congregate shelters, and so forth. Nor has Cummings.offered any accounting.

Last spring Cummings voted not to disperse Ross Camp until there was adequate alternative shelter. Weeks later, under the toxic wing of Councilmember Mathews and Supervisor Coonerty, Cummings ignored his commitment and authorized police to drive hundreds into the bushes, the streets, the downtown, and the neighborhoods. His pretext was a concern to keep County money flowing to the smaller token 1220 River St. shelter which warehoused a fraction of the Ross group.

In my letter to him, I pointed out that he now has a chance to rectify that cruel mistake. The issue is back on the table again as the number of visible camps skyrockets along hiway 1 (see The SCPD continues its abusive and unhealthy homeless displacement raids (see And in spite of momentarily expanded shelter, there simply is no plan for legal and accessible shelter for those displaced, nor any protection for their property.

In the Pogonip and along the levee as well many many survival sleepers face demands to leave with what they can carry or face fines and jail (an unconstitutional threat under Boise v. Martin) . I asked Cummings to direct the City Manager to secure an accounting from the County of how many are being displaced, and what kind of facilities are actually open and available for them–given their vulnerabilities and disabilities.
Cummings has made no reply.

Item #20 ignores and attempts to reverse the 5-2 decision of the Public Works Commission in upholding a challenge by Santa Cruz Union of the Homeless President Alicia Kuhl. She and other vehicle-dwellers have parked along Olive St. for a year lawfully and respectfully in spite of hostility from some groups in the City. In violation of the CDC stay-in-place guidelines and legal “no tickets without a shelter option”, city staff have moved to appease reactionary critics with a culture-war agenda. In an attempt to gentrify the area and strip it of poor people so it will have a better “look”, staff proposed shrinking parking spaces so as to functionally exclude Kuhl’s vehicle and that of others there.

My letter to Cummings expressed frustration and disappointment that he even put this item on the agenda. The Mayor (in conference with the City Manager) controls the agenda. This is something Progressives last year learned too well when former Mayor Wakins repeatedly used her power to exclude, weaken, or delay items protecting renters and the poor. When two Councilmembers objected to this process and struggled to change it, they were subject to a recall,

As Mayor,, not unexpectedly, Cummings has declined to use his power to advance Progressive interests. After Cummings’ failure to strongly oppose the decimation of the Progressive majority through the recall, he now tamely proceeds to allow the Mathews majority an easy path to rubberstamping. He had the option to delay such harassment of vehicle dwellers at least until such time as the staff presented actual stats showing a crime problem, or answered the concerns of the Commission which rejected its recommendations.

It seems particularly strange that the City Council agenda has no documents I can find that record the Commission’s debate on the issue or give the Council and the public any insight into why they rejected the staff’s “move ’em along” agenda. The answers: inadequate alternate shelter, important shelter-in-place health concerns, a rental crisis, don’t make the staff report.

Former Mayor Watkins repeated exercised Agenda-setting authority to keep Progressive items out of City Council last year. She even maneuvered to move the Council Meeting Calendar section, used in desperation by the Progressive majority last year to override Mayoral censorship, to the top of the agenda so new issues revealed in the meeting wouldn’t be used to require her to agendize Progressive items.

I believe agenda setting should be a public or at least an open process. I don’t believe behind-doors Mayoral-Manager dictating is a good precedent or regular go-to, but Cummings’ failure to use it to protect a vulnerable part of the process is telling in this case.

Some of the meeting is gloomily predicted on my Sunday show at (1 hr, 1 minute into the file).

The threatened sweeps defy the CDC’s COVID-19 shelter-in-place advisories as well as the Martin v Boise court requirements banning camping citations and other abusive citations for survival behavior outside.

Some folks look to the November election and the “Progressive” slate of Kuhl, Kumar, Hill, and Brown as a respite from the reactionaries now on the Council. None of them (except perhaps Kuhl) has come out for the firing of the City Manager and the City Attorney–the necessary first step in a fundamental change.

The community must mobilize to keep up pressure on the real power in the community–the staff and those who lead it–as well as the compliant Council. “Progressive”-sounding words historically degrade into complicity. Folks must continue to hit the streets, organize independently, and recognize that the current system is immune and indifferent to rational argument, but understands little other than power.

It takes direct action–whether to remove fences walling off the homeless (and the public), provide daily meals and clothing (as Food Not Bombs does) or to effectuate justice as authorities continue their bad-business-as-usual.