Santa Cruz camping law applies to demonstration at county courthouse, officials say
found online at: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_15628303
SANTA CRUZ -- The legal loophole that has allowed dozens of protesters to camp in front of the county courthouse for more than three weeks closed Wednesday when city and county officials determined the city's camping ban applied to the county property because it falls within city limits.
However, it remained unclear how the ordinance would be enforced.
"I think what they're going to do is notify all the folks and encourage them to move along," said county spokeswoman Dinah Phillips, who issued a statement Wednesday saying the city's no-camping ordinance would be enforced.
But sheriff's deputies were still formulating a response and city police said it's not their call.
"Why would we go? It's the county's property," Deputy Santa Cruz Police Chief Rick Martinez said. "We're not going to take action on our own on their property."
Demonstrators called the announcement a "scare tactic."
"It's not going to work," camp spokesman Christopher Doyon said. "We're not going. We're not afraid."
The demonstration, which protesters call Peace Camp 2010 and which is led by homeless advocates Robert Norse, Ed Frey and Becky Johnson, kicked off July Fourth and has continued unabated on the county-owned swath of land in front of the courthouse.
Sheriff's deputies enforce laws on county property, and there is no county ordinance that prohibits camping on that lawn. City law bans sleeping in public places from 11 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.,
Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin said that city laws apply to county property that falls within Santa Cruz city limits, and there has been a long-standing agreement that sheriff's deputies would provide law enforcement outside the courthouse and county building.
After several meetings with county and city officials, "all parties now agree" that county authorities can enforce city codes on their property, Rotkin said. In fact, he said sheriff's deputies always have had the right, as does the California Highway Patrol or any other police agency, to enforce city laws.
Rotkin was clear, however, that the push to enforce the camping ban now -- 24 days after the camp was established -- didn't come from the city.
"Nobody from the city is putting pressure on anybody about this," Rotkin said. "We have enough on our plate."
The atmosphere at the camp-in was calm Wednesday afternoon. Someone brought the protesters burritos, doughnuts and coffee, and the "traditional Santa Cruz Wednesday drum circle" was under way, according to tweets from the so-called Peace Camp 2010.
Word that they might be ousted from their camp didn't surprise demonstrators.
"There were several of us who figured that, that the laws are applicable here and they can cite us," said Doyon, 45, who is homeless. "We were prepared for that."
But, he said, sheriff's deputies have told him they have no intention of breaking up the camp, a place that Doyon said has given some homeless people the first safe night's sleep they've had in months.
On Tuesday, sleep-in participants marched to City Hall to demand the City Council revoke the city's no-camping law. The arguments were presented during oral communications, which allows comments on any topic, and the council took no action.
"I saw the fear of God in Mike Rotkin and Ryan Coonerty," Doyon said. "We definitely made our presence known. I think we're getting a lot of traction on this, and we're going to keep up the pressure."
Doyon said demonstrators will not leave voluntarily.
But court employees think it's time for the demonstration to go.
Labor unions are considering filing complaints about employees' work environments because of the camp-in. Employees working late or on weekends have reported more people inside the county building and courthouse who don't have authorization to be there.
Tim Newman, spokesman for the local court branch, said the protest has gotten more troublesome and unpleasant. While it hasn't blocked access to the courthouse or the adjacent county building, Newman said the demonstration seems to be beyond the control of the peaceful activists who launched it.
"It's seeming to attract a different element," he said. "We've had fights out there between campers."
Someone urinated on a trash can and one camper was arrested for public intoxication. The demonstration also accumulates a lot of trash, there's been some drug use and, on Tuesday, someone brandished a lead pipe, Newman said.
"People have the right to represent their views," Newman said, "but at some point I think some order needs to be restored out there."
Sheriff's deputies and city police are working on a plan to address the problems created by the camp, according to a prepared statement by sheriff's Lt. Craig Wilson. He said the area isn't designed for camping and lacks appropriate facilities, which creates health and safety concerns. Also, people are complaining about the demonstrators.
"We understand their rights," Sgt. Dan Campos of the Sheriff's Office said. "We also have some responsibility to the community."
City attorney John Barisone has agreed to help prosecute campers, should they be ticketed and taken to court, said Martinez with the Santa Cruz Police Department.
However, there is no time line to take action, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"Hopefully we can get this thing resolved sooner or later," Martinez said. "It's really going to come down to us working together."