Tightening the Noose on Public Assembly: Santa Cruz City Council’s New Law 3 PM 11-26-13

New Public Assembly Restrictions Up For Initial Vote Tuesday 11-26 at City Council

by Robert Norse
Monday Nov 25th, 2013 10:47 PM

I’ve not had time to look at it carefully, but agenda item #12 rewrites the entire sections on public demonstrations for commercial and non-commercial events. The staff report can be found at http://sire.cityofsantacruz.com/sirepub/cache/2/gm3nxoa24g4uqu55k4gs1zrb/382360111252013053508496.PDF . I hope to take a longer look later, but the one thing I do notice is that the permit requirement has now tightened apparently so that 50 rather than 100 people require a permit. Additionally marching in the street is no longer provided for except through costly street closures, and permit now have to be applied for 5 days rather than 36 hours in advance. –Not that anyone seeks permits for Santa Cruz protests.

I encourage indybay readers to examine this ordinance themselves. Like the Sidewalk Shrinkage ordinance severely reducing space for public performance, political tabling, panhandling, vending, and art display, this ordinance has come with no advance notice and is likely to be rubberstamped at tomorrow’s afternoon session. For the texts of the old and new laws, go to http://sire.cityofsantacruz.com/sirepub/cache/2/gm3nxoa24g4uqu55k4gs1zrb/382360111252013053508496.PDF and look up agenda item #12.

If you value your right to publicly assemble and march in any cause, this ordinance should have a big red warning light attached to it, considering the make-up of the Council, the likely next mayor (Lynn Robinson), and the past record of this Council and the City Manager in cutting back public space, public assembly, and public accessibility.

It also may be overshadowed by the evening’s Water Solutions hearing and next City Council meeting’s Task Force Report consideration as well as the dreaded appointment of Lynn Robinson as Mayor.

The ordinance also needs to be contrasted with the Commercial Events permit.

The parallel with the recent ordinance changes throttling of street performance and art is instructive. The hypocrisy and special interest nature of the “display device” ordinance was obvious then and has become more obvious since. Obstructive commercial signs now litter the Pacific Avenue sidewalks in spite of the alleged “trip and fall” hazard. This “danger” as well as the Robinson-Comstock-Mathews “upscale aesthetics’ concerns prompted the banning of blankets on the sidewalk, the constriction of tabling, vending, and performance space, and the expansion of “forbidden zones” now encroaching on 95% of the sidewalks downtown for non-merchant activity.

But probably many have noticed that almost every performer, vendor, even political tabler down there is in violation of the letter of the law as passed on September 24th. Hosts and police have given out few if any citations. When I visited Pacific Avenue tonight there was a group of 12 traveling musicians and young folks sitting in a circle next to the Cafe Capesino kiosk playing music for donation, taking up 5 to 10 times the amount of allowed space (but, of course, blocking no one).

So may it be with this “Parade Permit” ordinance–last hauled out notoriously to ticket Whitney Wilde, Curtis Reliford, and Wes Modes for “walking in a parade without a permit” on a DIY New Years event 3-4 years ago. I have been in at least several dozen marches down Pacific Avenue in the last few decades, probably more, and none of them had a permit.

However mischievous laws in the hands of Mayor Robionson’s police instructed to be “tough” may take a different course. Police and politicians may move to punish those exercising the traditional freedoms Santa Cruz peaceful protesters have enjoyed.

The ordinance coming up tomorrow on the afternoon agenda empowers them to do so and makes spontaneous protest significantly more difficult.

by Robert Norse

Monday Nov 25th, 2013 10:49 PM

The item is on the afternoon agenda which begins at 3 PM. It is likely to come up between 3 and 4 PM.