SENTINEL photo: Robert Norse works quietly while other campers clean up shortly after 8AM Thursday morning. --- Dan Coyro
found online at: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_15687212?source=most_viewed
SANTA CRUZ - Tensions surrounding a month-long homeless protest in front of the county courthouse are rising, but so far no action has been taken to enforce the city's camping ban.
For the second time this week, sheriff's deputies went to Peace Camp 2010 late Wednesday to shoot photos, talk with demonstrators and advise them they are violating the city ordinance, according to Sgt. Dan Campos.
"We've got some plans to resist the next time they come too," Christopher Doyon, 45, a homeless man who is the spokesman for the camp. "They're not going to get this easy."
Most of the 40 people camping on the lawn and stairs in front of the Santa Cruz County Superior Courthouse were cooperative and no citations were issued, Campos said
Peace Camp participants had a different take on the night. They termed the incident a "raid" and said they thought deputies invaded their camp and harassed sleeping people.
"They came in last night and they met some pretty stiff resistance," said Doyon. "We're not going to take this laying down anymore."
Wednesday, participants also argued with deputies, telling them they were violating campers' civil rights by waking people. Deputies also had come to the camp early Sunday morning, a calm visit that campers had expected.
The demonstrators are calling for the Santa Cruz City Council to rescind a city ordinance that prohibits camping in Santa Cruz between 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., as well as forgiveness for all camping tickets ever issued in the city.
Peace Camp participants have vowed to stay on the lawn until their demands are met and if police try to remove them, several have said they will not go voluntarily.
But some think the protest has lost its focus and should be moved.
Court employees are frustrated by the trash, human waste and bad behavior associated with Peace Camp 2010, according to Linda Sepulveda, the SEIU court employees president and a supervisor in the local court system. County employees, who are a part of another union, also may take action, she said.
Some employees are keeping daily diaries documenting issues with the encampment and plan to file complaints with the Sheriff's Office and the county Board of Supervisors, she said.
"What's upsetting to us is it's almost like they're spitting in our faces," Sepulveda said. "This is a place of law and justice and they're breaking the law left and right out here. Every day they push it a little further."
A maintenance worker, who is member of her union, told her Monday he picked up 450 pounds of trash that had accumulated during the weekend and that he regularly cleans up human waste, as well as feces from the dogs tethered to trees on short leashes. Also, people wash their hair in sinks in public restrooms and a panhandler cussed out an employee who declined to give him change.
"I understand that they have a valid point that they want a place to sleep, however it's gone beyond that and now this is just a loitering place. We've seen drug deals happen out front. We just saw a guy walking around drinking beer," Sepulveda said. "The originating issue has been lost now."
Doyon said many county workers support the Peace Camp cause. Demonstrators support deputies arresting people drinking or fighting and do what they can to minimize bad behavior.
"Nobody defecates in the bushes and there is no garbage, no rotting food," Doyon said. It's an encampment of homeless people, it looks messy."
Homeless "tent cities" have cropped up in Santa Cruz County in the past, such as Camp Paradise and a later encampment, dubbed "Camp Paradise II," behind a church near Cabrillo College. A flood washed out the original Camp Paradise, along the San Lorenzo River bridge near Highway 1 where about 50 people made homes for 10 months. The county red-tagged its successor.
But Peace Camp 2010 is a unique situation because it's a protest camp.
Seattle public officials dealt with a similar set of circumstances last year when a large group of disenfranchised people set up a tent city with the goal of providing safe and sanitary shelter for up to 1,000 people. The homeless camp, named Nickelsville after then-Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, moved seven times before it landed in Port of Seattle park in July.
Campers were evicted about 90 days later, during which several people were arrested for criminal trespassing, according to port spokesman Peter McGraw.
"We had given them several chances," McGraw said. "I think it was just finally the fact that permitting them to be there was not legal for them to be there."
But with Peace Camp 2010, it wasn't clear until last week if the city's camping ban applied to the demonstration, which is occurring on a county-owned swath of lawn.
Once city and county leaders determined the ordinance was enforceable, it became a question of which police agency would handle the situation and the Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over county property and provides court security, eventually took charge of supervising the Peace Camp.
The Sheriff's Office continues to investigate the demonstration, but Campos declined to say if or when deputies plan to enforce the city ordinance.
"We want to give every opportunity for these participants to consider their actions before any enforcement is carried out," Campos said.
Doyon has said they will welcome camping citations, which they plan to paste onto a piece of cardboard under the title "Mike Rotkin's Wall of Shame," a challenge to the Santa Cruz mayor.
"We've got some plans to resist the next time they come too," Doyon said. "They're not going to get this easy. ... It's definitely reaching a new phase. I think people are stoked for it, they're excited to bring on the battle."