Fresno’s Last Homeless Encampment Demolished–but not without resistance

NOTE BY NORSE:  A day before Santa Cruz’s Community Blanket Sit-in on Pacific Avenue (scheduled for 1-3 PM tomorrow in front of Forever Twenty-One on Pacific Ave–or whereever folks want to show on Pacific), Fresno activists engaged in active resistance to the Fresno homewrecker attack on the unhoused community ther   Below is a brief update by Mike Rhodes, who will be on the stream of Free Radio Santa Cruz tomorrow (10-24) at 6:34 p.m.  Tune in at http://tunein.com/radio/FRSC-s47254/.

                Unlike Santa Cruz activists (myself included) who have put little time into providing support and defense for existing encampments,  Fresno’s strong advocates put their bodies on the line to block bulldozers or so they report.  Admittedly they also have some legal muscle behind them and on-going lawsuits (by an ACLU that actually supports homeless civil rights unlike the Rotkin-Pleich ACLU of Santa Cruz), but we can still learn lessons from them.The Grain Silo/Canal Bank Homeless Encampment is Destroyed

by Mike Rhodes ( editor [at] fresnoalliance.com )
Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

The City of Fresno continued their attacks on the homeless today by destroying the last encampment in the downtown area. The photo below shows one protester stopping a bulldozer as it tried to enter the encampment.

 

 

The City of Fresno destroyed the last remaining homeless encampment in the downtown area today. The assault on the Grain Silo/Canal Bank homeless encampment started at dawn and continued throughout the day. By 7:30 a.m. homeless advocates had blocked the two main roads into the encampment, preventing bulldozers and other city vehicles from entering.The city work crews shifted their strategy to focus on a handful of tents and other structures in a field on the other side of the railroad tracks. Bulldozers, garbage trucks, police and other support vehicles came down a dirt road on a canal bank to start the demolition. The handful of homeless people at that location were told to remove their property or it would be stored. The destruction of the structures at that location took several hours, while the homeless advocates maintained their vigil at the main encampment.

Eventually the city focused their attention on the much larger encampment and tried to bring in their bulldozers on a road that ran parallel to the railroad tracks on the south side of the camp. They were met by 10 – 15 homeless advocates who refused to allow the city vehicles to pass. After negotiations with Jim Betts, an attorney working for the City of Fresno, an agreement was reached to allow a U-Haul truck in to move some of the property.

As the homeless and their allies were loading the U-Haul a second bulldozer came down a road at the north end of the camp. One of the protesters jumped on the bulldozers claw and the city soon withdrew that vehicle.

The protesters, having gained time to help move the homeless, stepped back and two bulldozers and a garbage truck entered the encampment and started destroying what was left on the south end. It appeared that all of the homeless had moved out of that area and the property remaining had been stored.

I had to leave by mid afternoon, but it appeared that the city would have the entire encampment leveled by the end of the day. Several City of Fresno representatives told me that a fence would be put up on Thursday to keep anyone from re-establishing an encampment at that location.

Meanwhile, in other parts of town, homeless people are having their property confiscated if it is left unattended. I was also shown a citation one homeless person received yesterday that charged them with an infraction for leaving “debris in the road” which was, they say, their property. To see an earlier story about this new police tactic in Fresno, see: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/10/09/18744608.php

To see what groups working in support of the homeless will do next, see: http://www.helpfresnoshomeless.org/

§Protesters Arrived at Dawn

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§The City Started the Attack in an Unexpected Location

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Bulldozer stopped by the Protesters

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Negotiations take place with Jim Betts (Center)

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

Betts is the attorney representing the City of Fresno

§A U-Haul Truck was used to help people move

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

You can see the protesters stopping the city equipment, to the left of the U-Haul

§Loading property onto the U-Haul

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Protesters Hold Their Ground

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Destruction of the encampment

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Some people moved their property across the RR tracks

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§One of the Signs Posted by the Homeless – to save their property

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

§Cinnamon, one of the homeless residents, Called out for Help

by Mike Rhodes Wednesday Oct 23rd, 2013 10:21 PM

 

 

The Latest Street Menace–Chess

NOTES BY NORSE:  The suppression of sidewalk chess in San Francisco is a mirror example of what is being done in Santa Cruz–removal by edict of public assembly on the sidewalks though the behavior is innocent (indeed positive), traditional, and serves not only “homeless” people but the community as well.  The only people complaining (and its not clear whether any real presentation of complaints versus commendations has been made) are some merchants.
Ditto with Santa Cruz.   Performers, vendors, artists, political tablers–indeed anyone who wants to sit down on the broad Santa Cruz sidewalks (and don’t even  mention anyone who wants to peaceful, even silently sparechange)–already face an absurdly contracted space, high fines for sitting outside the designated areas, and huge fines for doing so (not to mention the threat of ail for repeated offenses).   The aggressors here are the same group of self-entitled gentrification maestros and economically-anxious merchants who are attempting to sanitize business districts throughout the country.
Liberal on the outside, homeless-ophobic and streetlife-hostile underneath, places like New Leaf Market, Coffee Roasting Company, Verve–to mention only a few–are banning backpacks and homeless-looking people inside and (in New Leaf’s case) supporting their removal even from the public sidewalks outside.  Streetlife is considered to be a “draw” or–in the current crypto-fascist language–”an enabling” or “welcoming” aspect to the sidewalk and so needs to be either regimented or removed entirely.  Ironically this “clean up” campaign threatens the vibrancy and color that actually draws tourists to the overpriced Pacific Avenue with its skyrocketing rents & knickknack shops.
Simply wailing the business blues isn’t enough in Santa Cruz (and SF), so merchants, cops, cranky conservatives, and paranoid residents hook up to generate the mythical “Public Safety” menace.  In Santa Cruz this takes the virulent and retrograde Drug War shape with politically resurgent groups like Take Back Santa Cruz, the Green Team, and the new Needle-Free Zone fear-mongers beating the drums for attacks on anyone who looks homeless (See https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/09/29/18744023.php ).  Deny them services; deny them space; criminalize them with absurd laws, and then use that criminal status to drive them away.
In Santa Cruz it will also become difficult if not impossible to play chess on the sidewalk without a permit.  Try and do it in 12 square feet and see.   Protests continue against these spirit-suppressing laws next Sunday (See https://www.indybay.org/uploads/2013/09/29/festival_of_fun_flyer__for_10-6.pdf and related articles at www.indybay.org/santacruz ).

SFPD Shuts Down Sidewalk Chess Games

sf-sidewalk-chess.jpg
Photo: goosmurf/Flickr
Well, this is a pathetic development in the War on Fun: The SFPD has confiscated all the game tables, chairs, and chess boards that have been used for at least three decades for sidewalk chess games on Market Street near Fifth. The claim is that “illegal activity” has spiked in the last six months, but this kind of sounds like bullshit given that we used to live in this neighborhood, and the entire five-block radius around those chess games has basically never not been a hotbed of illegal activity.
Says police Capt. Michael Redmond to the Chron, “It’s turned into a big public nuisance. I think maybe it’s a disguise for some other things that are going on.”
Oh, for god’s sake. It’s just a bunch of elderly, mostly homeless dudes playing chess!! Whatever else is going on around them, or whatever pills they may be taking on their non-chess-playing time, has little or nothing to do with the fact that they’re all just out their passing the time in a perfectly peaceful way, sacrificing pawns and taking bishops and rooks and shit!!
Sidebar: We gather that women passing by the daily games were frequently subjected to harassment, but that is another matter.
Our guess is that the row of chess-playing dudes runs counter to the image that the upcoming new tenants across the street, in what will become Market Street Place, the vertical mall formerly called CityPlace. And even though that is only barely under construction and not near opening, they want to get a head start on spiffing things up for the neighboring businesses that will reap the benefits of the retail gentrification to come.
They have their work cut out for them on Sixth Street. Baby steps.

Endgame: S.F. police shut down sidewalk chess

Neal J. Riley Updated 11:32 pm, Tuesday, September 17, 2013
      Marvin Boykins, sitting on Market Street between Fifth and Sixth, is the last sign of street chess in downtown San Francisco. Boykins, 57, learned to play chess when he was 7 years old. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle

 

Street chess, that institution of young, old, rich and poor mentally duking it out over a checkered board in the open air, thrives downtown in nearly every big city of America – except, now, San Francisco.

For more than 30 years, chess games have been a staple near Fifth and Market streets, but earlier this month, the San Francisco Police Department confiscated the playing equipment, chairs and tables from where dozens of people, mostly homeless, would gather every day to play.
Police said that regular chess players weren’t the problem but that the area had become a hotbed for illegal gambling and drug use.
“It’s turned into a big public nuisance,” said Capt. Michael Redmond, contending that complaints from nearby businesses and arrests for sale and possession of narcotics have increased over the past six months. “I think maybe it’s a disguise for some other things that are going on.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the only sign of street chess was at the feet of Marvin Boykins, 57. Across from his latex chessboard, a friend moved chess pieces at the command of a smartphone computer game set at the grandmaster level, which Boykins refused to listen to after it warned him that he’d made a bad move.
“I’ve been playing since I was 7 or 8 years old,” said Boykins, who has been playing at the spot for decades. “Chess is a true San Francisco tradition.”
His friend, Hector Torres Jr., said chess saved him from a gambling addiction when he moved to San Francisco from Las Vegas more than 20 years ago. He said the chess games are a discrimination-free zone that has welcomed everyone including San Francisco Giants players, millionaires and people who have been in prison for decades.
“They’re being mean for no reason,” Torres Jr., 42, said about the police. “To me, it’s a scapegoat.”

Decades of history

Pinpointing exactly how the games began on Mid-Market is difficult, but what is clear is that they have been a fixture since at least the early 1980s.
The people supplying the tables, and the rules for play, changed periodically, but the basic premise was always the same: A steady core of chess devotees, many of them homeless, sat at the tables all day, and pretty much anyone who wanted to play could take a seat.
Sometimes the winner won $1, other times it was just a straight fee to play. At one time in the early 2000s the players who ran the tables charged 50 cents for three games. Boykins charges $2 for people to rent one of his boards.
The tables were sometimes supplied by avid players with homes and sometimes by homeless people – one penniless man in the mid-2000s dragged them there every morning from his storage place south of Market Street.
San Francisco resident Vivian Imperiale, walking down Market Street on Tuesday, said she saw police officers telling chess players a few weeks ago to get rid of their equipment.

Businesses relieved

“I was walking out here and I was thinking ‘how charming,’ although I think there’s money involved – it’s probably not all squeaky clean,” she said. “It seemed innocent.”
But employees at several nearby businesses said they were relieved the tables are gone.
“It’s an excuse for illegal activity – period,” said Dimitri Madrid, manager at Beauty Supply and Hair Salon, which has sent four letters to Mayor Ed Lee complaining about drug and alcohol use, violence and barbecuing that has taken place by the tables.
Now that the tables and crowds are gone, Madrid says he no longer sees people walking by with their purses clutched tightly in their arms, or just crossing to the other side of the street.
“It’s like night and day,” he said. “Sales have been up.”
At CeX, an electronic entertainment exchange, people have come in and asked where the chess went, said Ryan K., a store manager who didn’t want to give his last name.
“Since it’s been gone, it’s been a lot quieter,” he said, adding that he thought that was an improvement.

Not the last move

Ryan said police had reached out to businesses, asking if the chess tables were creating problems. He said drug use was commonplace and customers were calling to say they weren’t coming back to the store.
“They said, ‘We didn’t want to come here because it’s too dangerous,’ ” Ryan said.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said the police were wrong to take chess away.
“Having activities for folks to do is a positive thing,” she said. “We have elderly people who are very isolated, and this is a great way for them to be out in the community.”
Redmond said the players’ property will eventually be released back to them and he hopes to work out a plan for chess in the future – but that may involve persuading a business to pay for a permit so games can be played on the sidewalk.
“I’m optimistic that something is going to work out,” Boykins said.
Neal J. Riley is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: nriley@sfchronicle.com Twitter @realdealneal

Anaheim Moves Against Its Homeless Community

NOTES BY NORSE:   Both Anaheim and Santa Cruz are ramping up their assaults on the homeless, without specifying what they’re doing (why acknowledge unconstitutional and cruel behavior?) or masking it under other labels.  In Santa Cruz it’s “public safety”, “the needle menace”, and “the perception of danger”; in Anaheim, they’re calling it “blight”, “increasing police tools”, etc.

The latest Santa Cruz City Council’s anti-homeless expansion of Smoking, Vending, Tabling, Performing, Art Display, Sparechanging, and Sitting Bans downtown are similarly camouflaged and rationalized as “congestion”, “clarity”, and “clean and tidy” aesthetic concerns.    Today at Santa Cruz City Council at 2:45 PM supporters of a Downtown for All will be gathering to share food, experience, ideas and speak to the Community during the Council meeting (the Council itself isn’t listening) in the brief televised period.  That’s at 809 Center St. across from the Main Library and Civic Auditorium.  Bring instruments and friends.

Another “more respectable” effort is being made by activists supporting a Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp to the County Board of Supervisors–calling for a small tightly controlled “drug free” Camping Area.  9 AM at 701 Ocean St. on the 5th Floor of the Board of Supervisors.   The supporters led by Brent Adams will be presented a business plan and may have recently gotten the support of Paul Lee, a local author and philanthropist who tried himself unsuccessfully to set up an Eco-Village a decade ago and a Community House a decade before that.  In the 80′s Lee supported activist Calamity Jane Imler’s hunger strikes against the Sleeping Ban, police abuse, and the call for a cold-and-rainy-night Shelter.  Adams has been a target of political repression in the aftermath of the Occupy Movement as one of the Santa Cruz Eleven–when hundreds occupied a vacant Wells Fargo-leased bank at 75 River St.

The Anaheim ordinance’s definition of “camping” (Yuppie-speak for “survival sleeping”) is “Residing in or using any Public Area for living accommodation or lodging purposes with one’s personal property or while storing one’s personal property;  and/or constructing, maintaining, occupying, or inhabiting or using camping facilities and/or constructing, using or maintaining camping paraphernalia.  For the purposes of this section “camping” shall not include merely sleeping outside in a park or the use of a blanket, towel, or mat in a park during the time the park is open to the public.”

Santa Cruz activists have long agitated against Santa Cruz’s Sleeping and Blanket Bans, which defines and criminalizes camping as sleeping after 11 PM at night outside on any public property, on much private property, or in a vehicle, even if legally parked on public property.   It has its own “abandoned property” rule, and in today’s City Council vote will finalize a severe shrinkage of space where homeless people (and to be “fair” this affects any one and everyone) can place their possessions if trying to display art, engage in political activity involving a table, vend anything, or perform music.  This is a social sickness that is spreading everywhere.

The City’s gentrification adovocates are countering traditional toleration and compassion in the community (though not in the police, City Council, or City Manager’s office), right-wing NIMBY’s with the Downtown Association, Santa Cruz Neighbors, Take Back Santa Cruz, and other reactionary groups propaganda and agitation.  These exclusionary Upper Class warriors are making much of the Drug War and a xenophobic “outsiders flooding our community”.  They can be seen in full frightening bloom at the Mayor’s Public Safety Task Force.  The group meets every Wednesday in October usually at the police department’s Community Room on Laurel and Center streets.  The public is generally allowed to watch but not to comment.

Anaheim City Council Now Declaring War on Homeless

By Gabriel San Roman Mon., Sep. 23 2013 at 2:31 PM
lapalmapark_tent.jpg
Josue Rivas
Homeless tent

A week after activist Stephen Baxter held a ‘sleep-in’ protest in downtown Fullerton over the city’s war on the homeless, Anaheim will try to one-up them with a punitive ordinance of its own. The city municipal code already forbids staying in a public park between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., which has the homeless laying their head elsewhere for the night–but that’s not enough for councilwoman Kris Murray and her crew!

On Tuesday, council members will decide on a proposal aimed at banning camping and storage of personal property on public property at any time.
In a staff report submitted by Director of Community Services Terry Lowe, the ordinance is framed as one that will “serve as a tool in the City’s effort to promote and support safe, clean and accessible neighborhoods and eliminate blight.” Never once are the homeless referenced directly, but it couldn’t be clearer who the intended target is.

If Anaheim’s city council should approve the crackdown–and it almost assuredly will–no homeless person can use a tent for living purposes at any hour in public areas including parks, alleys, parking lots, or any other publicly owned property. Nor could they store personal belongings such as the tents themselves, sleeping bags, bedrolls, cooking equipment, books, money and appliances in addition to other possessions in such spaces.

Public parks are the most visible places where the city’s homeless population set up tents during the day. Since the eviction of a sizable homeless encampment in Fullerton by the shuttered Hunt Library earlier this year, many of those displaced turned up on the east lawn of La Palma Park in Anaheim.

lapalmapark_homeless.jpg
Josue Rivas / OC Weekly
La Palma Park in Anaheim

The belongings of the homeless would be subject to 90-day impounds so long as they are given “proper notice.” Anaheim police can immediately confiscate possessions if they are left after hours at the park or deemed to be contraband, a threat to public health and safety or evidence of crime. Retrieval is allowed when the Chief of Police finds proof of ownership to be “satisfactory.”
If that’s not the case, the city stands poised to make money off of the confiscations, whether through depositing unclaimed money into the general fund or holding auctions.

Enforcement of the ordinance entails fines for infractions. The first violation would cost $100. A second violation within a year is punishable up to $200 with every subsequent infraction in that time span costing $500.

“I would categorize this ordinance as part of the larger ‘criminalization of homelessness’ that many communities fall back on when they choose to be less creative with their problem solving,” says Jennifer Lee-Anderson, Co-Chair of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force and policy planning consultant on homelessness. “The $100 to $500 fines that are noted in the proposed ordinance are part of the reason that many chronically homeless are simply cycled through the criminal justice system repeatedly.”

Near La Palma Park, the city is just weeks into a newly opened storage area and outreach center. The homeless can take advantage of Conex boxes set up to leave their personal belongings during the day. The city-owned parking lot by Glover Stadium is close to where people continue to set up tents. In a heavy-handed way, the ordinance could encourage more homeless to participate in the pilot program but is also a cause for concern and clarification. “There’s no language that exempts the storage area,” adds Lee-Anderson expressing disappointment that she learned about this proposal from the Weekly and not city staff. There is also the issue of other public areas in Anaheim far beyond La Palma Park where homeless persons stay.

For the past six years, Jim Carter has taken students at Servite High School, where he works, to serve meals at La Palma Park every Thursday. “I understand where the city comes from. I understand where the police come from,” says Carter, also a member of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force that has drafted a 15 point plan to address homelessness. “I don’t think [the ordinance] is a good thing. Unless it comes with a long-range plan to help these people move out of this situation, it’s just going to add stress to them. Where are the homeless going to go?”

“What would have been nice is if the city adopted the 15 point plan in full,” Carter mentions, emphasizing the key recommendation of establishing a multi-service center. “If the city is not willing to find a location where we can put a shelter, it’s never going to change.”


Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz


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FURTHER COMMENTS AT http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/2013/09/anaheim_homeless.php

TEXT OF THE ORDINANCE AT http://www.anaheim.net/docs_agend/questys_pub/MG41822/AS41861/AS41864/AI44292/DO44294/DO_44294.pdf

STAFF REPORT AT http://www.anaheim.net/docs_agend/questys_pub/MG41822/AS41861/AS41864/AI44292/DO44293/DO_44293.pdf

HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT EVICTION STORY AT:  http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/2013/06/hunt_library_fullerton.php

YET ANOTHER “NO SHELTER, NO RELIEF” 15-POINT PLAN TO “END HOMELESSNESS” BY FUNDING POVERTY PIMPS:  http://www.anaheimptf.org/plan .

Fiddling With the Sidewalk Snatchers in Berkeley

NOTES BY NORSE:   Carol Denney has been puncturing pompous panjandrums up in Berkeley monthly for nearly two decades with her Pepper Spray Times (which comes out monthly in the Berkeley Daily Planet on-line) as well as her work with the satirical Jolly Roger Comedy Troupe, which I occasionally play on the stream of Free Radio Santa Cruz ( (http://tunein.com/radio/FRSC-s47254/ down here.
Unlike Santa Cruz, Berkeley activists mounted a successful campaign against a Sitting Ban last year.  The last significant successes Santa Cruz has had were to overturn the original 1994 total sidewalk Sitting Ban, passed in the spring of that year by the Rotkin-Kennedy Council.  It resulted in a nearly-unprecedented local court victory when Judges Salazar and Barton both ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.    This was prompted by scores of arrests when hundreds of people flooded downtown to protest by sitting down at eating food with Food Not Bombs at Cathcart and Pacific.
Undeterred, the Council quickly passed a more limited Sitting Ban (6′ from buildings).
Essentially rubbberstamping and ratifying illegal police behavior that selectively enforced and arbitrarily expanded the Ban, the Council gradually expanding it in 2002 (14′ from buildings) to include all manner of other objects that created “No Sitting” zones  (buildings, street corners, intersections, kiosks, drinking fountains, public telephones, public benches, public trash compactors, information/directory signs, sculptures or artwork, ATM-style machines, outside street cafes, vending carts, and fences).
This reduced real Sitting space to less than 5% of the Pacific Avenue sidewalk and constitutes a total ban in other business districts where there are buildings adjoining with a sidewalk less than 10′ wide.
In a successful attempt to split street performers from the homeless people and peaceful panhandlers that were true targets of these laws, the Council agreed to limit “forbidden zones” to 10′ distances from all those objects.
At 3 PM on Tuesday September 24th, City Council (809 Center St.) will broaden its attack to include street performers, street artists, political tablers, & street vendors by expanding the forbidden zones to 14′ and  requiring an additional 12′ distance between all of these.   In addition all “non-free standing” display devices such as blankets and tarps will be banned as an aesthetically unappealing “trip and fall” hazard  (and far too easy to use)
This second reading of the Ordinance if passed will make it law on October 24th.
Perhaps Carol Denney will come down to Santa Cruz to do a little fiddling here.
More info at:  https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/09/12/18743122.php?show_comments=1#18743584 .

Sitting on a Chair Playing the Fiddle: A Crime? The PRC Hearing

Sitting on a Chair Playing the Fiddle

Carol Denney
Sitting on a Chair Playing the Fiddle

Berkeley’s last election had a contest between anti-sitting law proponents and those who opposed making simply sitting down a crime. “Measure S”, the anti-sitting law, was defeated at the ballot. It was considered a civil rights victory. But who really won?

It was the most expensive campaign in Berkeley history. It was funded by well-heeled real estate interests and supported by merchant associations, most of the Berkeley City Council, and the Chamber of Commerce. Criminalizing the simple act of sitting down was described by otherwise intelligent people as a humane response to human need, since living on the streets was so hard.

So can you sit on the street and watch a cloud go by? The results are still not in.

I worked on the campaign opposing the anti-sitting law. A large part of our work was simply educational. Misleading pro-anti-sitting law materials in expensive, shiny colors were everywhere. But once people found out the extremity of the anti-sitting law, they generally opposed it. Most people realized that the law would most probably be used against some people but not others; it’s hard to ignore the Cheeseboard pizza eaters sitting undisturbed by the “Don’t Sit on the Median” signs on Shattuck in North Berkeley.

Two days before the election on Sunday, November 4, 2012, I put poetry opposed to the anti-sitting law from poets all over the Bay Area up on the fence near the corner of Haste and Telegraph and sat down with some musicians to play. We were trying to illustrate that simply sitting on a chair playing music, perfectly legal behavior under the law, would become a crime in two days if Measure S were to pass.
I got a ticket.

Artists were inside the fence perimeter touching up the mural facing Haste Street. People trickled by, enjoying a sunny day. We sat close to the fence, so there was seven feet of unobstructed nine-foot wide sidewalk in front of each of us, more than enough space for two wheelchairs to pass without issue. Our instrument cases were beside or under us, out of the way.

A few people stopped and asked about the “This Is Legal” sign and its significance, but our demonstration was pretty unobtrusive until Berkeley Police Officer Heather Cole rode up on her bicycle. She accused us of obstructing an empty sidewalk, and since I had carefully researched both the ordinance and the best place on Telegraph to make sure to cause no hardship for merchants or passersby, I found it pretty funny.

This wasn’t civil disobedience. This was carefully planned obedience to illustrate the absurd overreach of the proposed anti-sitting proposal. I had checked the law, checked with attorneys, planned every aspect of the demonstration so that no one and no one’s instruments would be jeopardized.
Officer Cole continued to threaten us, arguing that we were in the way despite there being no complaining party. The muralists were amazed. News that someone was getting a ticket for sitting on a chair playing the fiddle traveled fast up and down Telegraph. A reporter snapped pictures for the local paper. A Channel Two news crew began filming.

Officer Cole kept insisting that other people had no right to be on the sidewalk, either. She moved a nearby plein air painter to the curbside and hassled a guy about twenty feet away collecting signatures.

I had heard about this police harassment from friends on the street and people who worked at the Homeless Action Center and the East Bay Community Law Center, but it never occurred to me that an obviously political demonstration would be targeted, especially with Channel Two News cameras running.

We kept playing. Officer Heather Cole kept shouting “I’ll take you to jail if you don’t stop playing,” while we played Soldier’s Joy, a moment which made the news that night. But it was turning into a strange scene. People were shouting at the cops. Two attorneys showed up who tried to explain to Officer Cole that she was misapplying the law. Officer Cole’s supervisor showed up and argued with them. I finally said, fine; give me a ticket, hoping to get back to playing.

But our effort to illustrate legal behavior was in ruins. I still don’t know what Officer Cole’s problem was that day. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley dropped the case against me after a couple of court dates.

I filed a complaint with the Police Review Commission which was not sustained. Can you sit on the sidewalk? The law is pretty clear about it, but no one else seems to be. A couple of the police review commissioners asked questions which implied that someone could be accused of obstructing the space one occupies with one’s body, a patent absurdity which, if true, would put us all in jail.

You can’t accidentally block a sidewalk under Berkeley’s law as written and clarified by former Police Chief Meisner’s memos. People can’t be accused of blocking a sidewalk for just being there, or for having a backpack or other personal items beside them, the law makes clear. But the police either don’t realize that or realize it and don’t care what the law actually says or what it was intended to do. The Police Review Commission, the Police Department, the City Council all look the other way as people continue to get these absurd tickets which at some point, if unaddressed, turn into jail time and court costs for which the public picks up the bill.

My ticket cost me at least three days of work, about ten cumulative hours of police officers’ time both in and out of court, court time for several pre-trial dates, and baffled a boatload of reporters, students, and Channel Two News watchers who are probably as confused as I am about why Berkeley would conduct the most expensive campaign in its history against sitting down if it is already against the law.

Is sitting down against the law? Maybe it depends on who you are. The Cheeseboard pizza eaters obviously get a pass. Maybe it depends on whether or not you are demonstrating against something like Measure S, a kind of content-based provision. Or maybe Officer Heather Cole hates traditional old-time music, a kind of fiddle-based objection.

It’s an Alice in Wonderland world up there on Telegraph. The hookah smoking caterpillar can’t figure it out, and neither can I. The muralists painted me into the mural after that day, for which, I suppose, I should thank Officer Heather Cole.

HUFF opposes passage of Palo Alto’s Living in Vehicles ordinance

FROM: Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom

309 Cedar St. PMB 14B

Santa Cruz, Ca. 95060

TO: Palo Alto City Council
250 Hamilton Avenue
Palo Alto, CA

re: Item # 17 on Action Agenda for Aug 5 2013 meeting

MC 9.06.010 “Living in Vehicles” ordinance proposal Continue reading