Pushback in Laguna Beach; Repression in Santa Cruz

NOTES BY NORSE:  Some HUFF activists have successfully pressed former Santa Cruz City Attorney John Barisone for exemption from some provisions of the Downtown Ordinance for disabled people.

Specifically “Push Back” Pat Colby has secured verbal (but not written) assurance that she will not be hassled under the hourly “Move Along” law.  This unique burdensome ordinance (MC 5.43.020(2) has the effect if not the intention of discouraging and burdening vendors, performers, panhandlers,and political tablers by requiring them to move 100′ every hour (to one of the increasingly few “legal” spots) and not to return for 24 hours.  Fines for violation are more than $300 and the ordinance has never been challenged beyond the trial court level.

In Santa Cruz, there’s been no acknowledgment of the needs of disabled folks around MC 6.36 (the Camping Ordinance which includes broad Sleeping, Blanket, and Camping bans).  Fines of $157 and Stay-Away orders are regularly levied against homeless people with no consideration of their possible disabled status.   To make matters worse, even the sketchy protection given by the “dismiss if on waiting lists of shelters” provisions of MC 6.36.055 have become inapplicable.

Giving private agencies like the Paul Lee Loft and River St. Shelter broad power to pick and choose who they’ll spare from the punishment of the Sleeping Ban has itself been a discriminatory problem. I have been unsuccessful in getting clear data from the City Attorney’s office as to how many homeless people are still ending up punished and prosecuted in spite of the obvious shelter deficiency.

However recently, in search of federal and state money, the Homeless (Lack of)Services Center has completely closed down all broader services to the general homeless population including meals, laundry, showers, and bathrooms.  Those without a “pathway to housing” may not be able to get on the River St. Shelter waiting list, and the Paul Lee list no longer exists.  Hence the whole homeless population of 1500-2000 in the City face the ticketing whim of cops and rangers urged on by right-wing bigots in the Santa Cruz Neighbors, Marlin Granlund’s Public Works Parking Dept., the Downtown Association, Take Back Santa Cruz, and other homeless-aphobic groups public and private.

The federal government has recently weighed legally–noting sleeping bans in cities with inadequate shelter are cruel and unusual punishments in the Bell v. Boise case.  This has tongues wagging, but no lawyers writing briefs here yet.

Meanwhile Freedom Sleepers, the group now planning its 8th challenge to the Sleeping Ban with a mass sleep-out on the City Hall grounds on September 1st, continues to face considerable police harassment.

Police removedtwo key Freedom Sleeper activists  in handcuffs charging them with felony “conspiracy” and “vandalism” charges, punishable by years in prison.   Their “crime”=-unrelated to the Freedom Sleeper protests is satirizing and exposing the City’s illegal constriction of public free expression space downtown through its demeaning and unconstitutional “blue boxes”.   After city officials illegally reduced the number of boxes, someone added additional blue marks creating more boxes on the sidewalk designated “free speech zones” where artists, activists, and street folks generally are allowed to socialize, rest, and table.  This apparently was done without concealment under the video surveillance of numerous cameras on Pacific Avenue.

City officials had earlier violated MC 5.43.005 (c) and (d) by proceeding to create new smaller “allowed” areas without City Council Resolution.  Police harassed, then arrested artists who used the older areas sandblasted away by the city officials.  See “Unpermitted Blue Boxes Appear Overnight on Pacific Avenue” at https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/24/18776595.php .                       The officials however were not taken into custody and required to pay $5000 bail to get out.  Keith McHenry goes to his initial hearing August 31 at 8:15 AM where Food Not Bombs will be serving a meal.  Freedom Sleepers  will return to City Hall grounds for their 8th sleepout on the evening of September 1st .

                          Meanwhile we’re still awaiting some movement from the local ACLU to take legal action on behalf of homeless people here–or at least those who are disabled–regarding the right to sleep–not anywhere and everywhere, but somewhere.  And to defend McHenry and others being punished for exposing the City’s crackdown on street performers.


ACLU Sues Laguna Beach Over Treatment of Homeless People

By jgallego August 20, 2015 at 12:43 PM


Nearly a decade after ACLU Foundation of Southern California sued Laguna Beach over the city’s and police department’s handling of homeless residents, the organization has again sued the city for failing to provide adequate facilities for  homeless people with mental and physical disabilities.

In a Thursday press release, ACLU SoCal said it seeks to require city officials to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing supported housing appropriate for the chronically homeless with disabilities. Following is the press release and a link to the suit:

Laguna Beach, CA – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP today sued the City of Laguna Beach for discriminating against homeless individuals with disabilities.
Currently, the city’s homelessness program provides only limited emergency shelter – often inaccessible to persons with disabilities – yet mandates strict enforcement of laws prohibiting sleeping in public, even against those who cannot access this shelter. 
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of five chronically homeless individuals with mental and physical disabilities, including a homeless veteran, seeks to require Laguna Beach officials to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing needed supportive housing – that is housing with wrap-around services such as mental health care and case management – appropriate for chronically homeless persons with disabilities.   
“Laguna Beach is best known as an affluent, idyllic seaside art colony, but a small, yet significant portion of the population suffers from mental and physical disabilities that leave them unable to access housing,” said Kristopher Wood, an attorney with Paul Hastings. “The City refuses to provide permanent supportive housing that would alleviate the problem; yet continues to cite physically and mentally disabled homeless individuals who have no other option for sleeping outdoors.  That conduct is simply illegal under the ADA and the Constitution.”

The lawsuit also challenges the city’s practice of ticketing disabled, homeless persons who cannot access this shelter for sleeping or lodging in public as cruel and unusual punishment. 
“The city has adopted a strategy that punishes homeless individuals with disabilities,” said Heather Maria Johnson, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal’s Dignity for All Project. “Unfortunately, the tactics are not new and what is happening in Laguna Beach is all too commonplace. But the difference in this case is the city has chosen to ignore the issue despite being put on notice years ago.”

In 2008, the ACLU SoCal challenged a Laguna Beach ordinance that allowed police to ticket homeless individuals who had no other place to sleep. That case was quickly settled, with the city agreeing to repeal sections of the ordinance that prohibited sleeping or camping in public places. Following that lawsuit, a shelter was established.
However, after the end of the settlement period, Laguna Beach officials reinstated the old prohibitions and police resumed ticketing homeless individuals, the vast majority of whom have mental or physical disabilities and often have difficulty accessing the shelter. The current lawsuit challenges the city’s new strategy. 
“With a population of just over 23,000, Laguna Beach is a very welcoming place for some.” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of ACLU SoCal’s Orange County office.  “But if you happen to be a homeless resident with disabilities, the city makes sure to let you know you are not welcome. This is a city with the resources to address the issue as required by law.”