Santa Cruz City Council Craps on Homeless: Police Ramp Up Repression on Protesters

9th SleepOut Holds The Sidewalk, Faces Klieg Lights, Parking Barriers, Police Retaliation
by Robert Norse
Thursday Sep 10th, 2015 10:42 PM

The 9th Freedom Sleepers protest event at City Hall September 8-9, challenged City Council and confronted continued repression from Santa Cruz police. Police made 2 arrests, reportedly gave 14 citations, and “successfully” drove protesters from the grass and bricks of the City Hall Courtyard (the seat of government in Santa Cruz) to the adjoining sidewalk. There they laid out sleeping bags or slept in adjacent cars, next to tables sporting “Sleep is Not a Crime”-style signs and Food Not Bombs numnums.

Activists have located their weekly Tuesday night sleep-out protests at City Hall because it is the seat of city government. The City Council Courtyard adjoins where the City Council meets every other Tuesday. The grounds are also adjacent to the offices of City Manager Martin Bernal. He can direct police on discretionary enforcement of anti-homeless laws such as the Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010a) as well as the level of police repression of activists–a level which has steadily increased with each passing protest. City Council, of course, has the the power to create or eliminate anti-homeless laws

At it’s Tuesday afternoon meeting September 8th, City Council moved forward directing staff to write up new laws severely restricting RV parking. These would either eliminate or severely shrink RV parking space or establish “permit parking” zones such as are currently used to drive away homeless-owned vehicles at night. The excuses used were “illegal dumping”, “blocking the view”, “safety of our children”, “illegal activities”, “burden on the taxpayer”, and “obstructing traffic”.

The underlying motivations, echoed by a group of younger women sporting “Take Back Westcliff” placards, seemed to be an upper-middle class aesthetic, NIMBY paranoia, a mobilized anti-homeless agenda, and a generalized xenophobia (suspicion of strangers).

There was zero concern about finding alternative spots for folks whose only home is their vehicle before laying down the “get out of our neighborhood” laws they favored. Nor did the Council want to pause in establishing the new “no homeless vehicle” zones though they give lip service to a weakened proposal for Councilmember Posner to investigate possible areas for RV parking. The elimination of existing space was to proceed independently however. Posner voted along with the rest of the Council for this new attack on the homeless.

The two anti-RV laws likely to return were presented by Scott Collins with City Manager Martin Bernal’s approval. They originated with the Transportation and Public Works Commission, the same body that declined to hold public hearings to stop “no parking without a permit on near the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center on Coral St.

The two anti-RV laws from last year. eliminated all “oversized parking spaces” city-wide and banned RV parking city-wide from 2 to 6 AM without a permit as well as setting up forbidden to park zones 50′ from intersections. Venomous property owners were demanding more extensive homeless removal–which may be in the cards in the months ahead.

No specific stats were presented regarding particular “crimes” committed by the RV dwellers and the expense of enforcing the proposed ordinances/ Councilmember Richelle Nironyan was previously chair of the Transportation and Public Works Commission when the NIMBY assault on RV’s came up there. Her Commission apparently sought and got no input from the RV dwellers, homeless service providers, or groups other than the cops and Take-Back-Santa-Cruz organized residents. Nor has Scott Collins and Martin Bernal in their report to City Council.

The proposal originated in a concern about the disposal of RV wastes, but there, as well, we heard no specifics about the number of citations, the extent of the problem, or the costs of the clean-up. The waste concern seemed to be a cover for a broader perception that RV’s were “traveling drug dens” as “Skindog” Ken Collins proposed.

Mayor Lane, instead of allowing Oral Communications at its scheduled 5 PM time, allowed 2 1/2 hours of mostly bigoted bumbashing by TBSC zealots—forcing those who had come to speak on other issues to wait until after 7 PM for their chance (and then cutting back their time to 2 minutes each).

Special red ropes were set up creating “forbidden zones” all along the side of the City Council next to the windows to prohibit the usual placement of literature tables there. This restriction of public and political space was done without any kind of public input–behind closed doors (like the closing off of the City Council grounds 5 years ago–for which activists are now being ticketed each Tuesday night). Additional signs warned people against loitering near the City Council outside using the same MC 13.04.011 for which Freedom Sleepers are facing $198 each for the several dozen citations they’ve gotten.

City Manager Martin Bernal previously met with Rabbi Phil Posner and other Freedom Sleepers. Protesters had experienced a massive escalation of protest the previous Tuesday (See ). Freedom Sleepers proposed a compromise to step back from their Tuesday night protests at City Hall, if Bernal agreed to direct police to make camping-related citations the lowest enforcement priority city-wide–given the increased crisis created by the elimination of shelter and waiting list as well as emergency services at the Coral St. complex. We further asked that police phone to determine if a shelter bed was actually available before waking up a sleeping homeless person who is not creating any other problem. We asked this be done for a period of two weeks as show of good faith. Bernal rejected the proposal

Bernal would not agree to take down the high-intensity klieg lights, the signs banning parking around City Hall, and the increased “ticket-before-talking” process used by police on September 1st. Nor would he recommend that the City Hall grounds be reopened at night to the public–as they have been for decades before he, the police chief, and the Mayor closed them down in a closed door meeting 2010 to drive away another protest against the city’s anti-homeless Sleeping Ban law.

Police have been denying activists the right to access city government agendas during the night, as the state Public Meetings Act requires. Police have also violated the “okay to be on the walkways through the area” provision of the “closed area” law being used to ticket and remove demonstrators from the City Hall complex at night. As of Wednesday night, Bernal had not advised the Freedom Sleepers of his “research”. He said he’d “look into” whether the community was being denied the right to view posted agendas posted in the “closed areas”.

Bob Arenson, the Santa Cruz Police Auditor, and Robert Aguirre, San Jose activist from H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S. checked out the protest as nervous observer and dedicated participant respectively. Visionsong Valerie, an organizer from the ancient SAFE organization (Society for Artistic Freedom and Expression) played “Mama, Don’t Allow No Sleepin’ Around Here” as the hot day cooled into night. Food Not Bombs old-timer Keith McHenry cooked hour after hour, supplying coffee and other vegan munchies. Abbi Samuels meandered about in her blue bathrobe checking on the welfare of those bedding down for the night.

Sometime after midnight Lamp-in-the-Night Lucero Luna raised the alarm, wakening sleepers to the arrival of 14 cops. Those who wanted not to be ticketed moved to the sidewalk. But, as the week before, police had stepped up pressure and were ticketing even those who had surrendered their right to be in the City Hall Courtyard at night as they stood on the sidewalk.

Lucero Luna had been tabling all weekend downtown in front of Marini’s for the Freedom Sleepers and loudly announcing the upcoming protest to everyone within earshot on Pacific with an occasional bellydancing visual accompaniment.

When police came for their midnight rousts, she darted in and out with her signs denouncing the SleepCrime Patrols. Two female officers arrested her, initially refusing her request to be told what she was being arrested for. She was taken to jail.

Though it was clear most of the sleepers had expeditiously moved to the sidewalk or were strugglng to do when police reached them, many (14 was one person’s count) were cited anyway. This continued the escalation of the week before–punishing the protesters for returning to protest.

I left early to be able to return for the HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom meeting) which happens every Wednesday at 11 AM at the Sub Rosa as well as the court appearance of Phil and Louise. Charged with MC 13.04.011 violation (being on city hall grounds after dark), they patiently waited an hour with 6 supporters and got their cases continued for several months.

Though I’d been jailed a week before for asking to be taken to a magistrate before signing a similar citation, the Superior Court clerk had no record of my case. Nor had any charges been filed against Israel Dawson, who was jailed weeks before the night when police targeted reporters and photographers there.

What’s next at SleepOut #10 on September 15th? Another nip at the anti-homeless laws in Santa Cruz.

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by Robert Norse

Friday Sep 11th, 2015 6:56 AM

See “Take Back Santa Cruz (TBSC) Targets Homeless RV Dwellers 8/8/2015 Santa Cruz City Council” at .

Papachristou v. Jacksonville (1972)
Desertrain v. Los Angeles (2014)
Bell v. Boise (2015, Statement Of Interest)

The courts (and DoJ) have made their intentions clear. Bigots abusing rule of law will not be tolerated. When those intentions become actions, Santa Cruz taxpayers will pay. The City Manager, Staff, Attorneys, and elected officials generally enjoy immunity from prosecution. They get paid either way, so they have little incentive to worry about consequences. It’s profitable for them to sell hate! In the short term, they can take the money and run. But in the end, petty tyrants fall. It’ll be tax payers left holding the bag for their crimes.