Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Situation Grows Darker

by Robert Norse

This last week saw high-intensity klieg lights at night powered by a noisy noxious generator spotlighting sleepers at night, new unprecedented "closing hours" of the City Hall Courtyard precluding peaceful protest presence there, and heightened friction from a patrolling First Alarm security guard (who began to hassle medical marijuana users for the first time at PeaceCamp2010's nightly meeting).

Last week, the City Parks & Recreation boss Dannettee Shoemaker apparently okayed closing off the entire City Hall complex at night without any public input, public discussion, consultation with the P & R commission, or respect for the wording of the relevant Municipal Code:

MC 13.04.011 (a) reads in part:

"The parks and recreation director may, by regulation, establish hours during which any ... grounds, building or facility is open to the general public.... For purposes of this chapter, the area under the jurisdiction and control of the parks and recreation director encompasses without limitation ...[the] City Hall Courtyard,... The parks and recreation commission ...shall be consulted to obtain input on any proposed modifications to the hours of operation of parks and open spaces."

Police began warning and then ticketing PC2010 vigilers for simply being in that now-forbidden zone, previously open to the public for decades. Additionally neither Shoemaker, Mayor Rotkin, nor the new City Manager Martin Bernal offered any crime figures to justify the lights, the increased First Alarm surveillance, or the closing off of public space.

Three days ago city workers posted the front of the library on Church St. with a sign banning sitting on the benches in front of the library 9 PM to 9 AM where many homeless people and weary residents have traditionally sat. By Thursday, an identical 'No Trespassing at Night' sign had been posted defacing the side of the library on Center St. First Alarm security extended their harassment activities and time period to now harass PC 2010 activists who had moved across the street to continue to be "legal".

The activist were willing to be ticketed for sleeping, but didn't want the focus of the protest to be muddied with other charges. Additionally sleeping tickets given--either under the City's unconstitutional Municipal Code 6..36 or the state Lodging law 647e--can be probably be effectively fought by pointing out the City's well-known lack of legal shelter.

So City Sleepslayers have adopted a new tactic. The new signage, however unconstitutional, literally pulls the the ground out from under the feet of those protesting. The signage makes any kind of presence there, and now around the outside of the library illegal.

Since the police, P & R, and City Manager have presented no statistics showing any increased crime in these areas, other than the crime of "sleeping" (which actually has remained at about the same level), the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that this is a direct attack on the First Amendment rights of those trying to awaken the conscience of City Hall through peaceful civil disobedience.

E-mail demands to Shoemaker and Bernal asking for the public documents relevant to the new signage have been ignored by both the P&R and the City Manager's office. Shoemaker's P&R has long made the absurd claim that they have no paper record of the work they order, how the decisions were arrived at, who put in the input, what departmental discussions happened, --whether the issue be benches on the mall of this latest assault on public spaces.

To understand the magnitude of the threat here, note the further wording of MC 13.04.011 (which was amended in 2006 to eliminate the requirement that public space closure must first go through a vote of the P & R Commission: see my comments at the time at

The expansive powers of Shoemaker include closing power over: " ... all city parks and greenbelts, all city park trails and roads, all city park facilities and buildings, including Lighthouse Field State Beach, DeLaveaga Golf Course, Main Beach, Cowell’s Beach, Steamer Lane, Harvey West Pool, the Beach Flats Community Center, the Louden Nelson Community Center, the Teen Center, the Civic Auditorium, City Hall Courtyard, Mission Plaza, the Town Clock, the Natural History Museum, the Surfing Museum, Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Pacific Avenue, West Cliff Drive (Pelton Street to Swanton Boulevard), the San Lorenzo River Levee and bike path, the San Lorenzo Benchlands, the inner banks of the San Lorenzo River within the City limits, the Branciforte and Cabonera Creeks within the city limits, Jessie Street Marsh, plus any other facilities or areas assigned to the parks and recreation department by the city manager."

Even though "consulting" with the P&R Commission is still required, there is no indication that Shoemaker did so before posting the signage at City Hall and the library. She gave no indication of that in response to the e-mail I sent her.

Meanwhile, the Homeless Services Center, which used to give out letters admitting there was no shelter there on any particular night of the summer, have changed their policy to require Waiting List status, possibly under pressure from city authorities concerned that protesters will be emboldened to assert their right to sleep on public property given the absolute lack of shelter space.

This HSC stonewalling strategy is counterproductive, considering their personnel can be subpoenaed into court in every case to testify that there was no shelter that night, even if the homeless victim ticketed didn't previously sign up (for non-existent shelter). The HSC's Board of Directors Chair Sally Williams, though agreeing to meet with homeless activists, has not yet issued a letter acknowledging the lack of shelter space and agreeing to provide a phone line with a recording that states "no shelter tonight" so that police can stop their futile ticketing or be guilty of clear harassment--as proposed by attorney-activist Ed Frey.

Meanwhile police are still holding such threatening items as the shoes of 72-year old Collette Connolly, the "End the Sleeping Ban" signs of protester Gary Johnson, and the community coffee megamug not to mention blankets, sleeping bags, two tables, several chairs, and political literature. Sara, nother pregnant homeless woman, has been driven away from the protest by the increased police harassment to sleep in a less safe area.

The expanded police state mentality and explicit statements of support from the triumverate of acting Police Chief Vogel, Vice-Mayor (and soon to be Mayor) Coonerty, and City manager Bernal are fawningly described in Jennifer Squires' Sentinel story at ,I reluctantly reprint it below lest it suddenly disappear from the archives and require payment to be accessed.

The story approvingly reports on the expansion of First Alarm goonsquad activity to Pacific Avenue with the vague inflammatory but unsubstantiated claims of "vandalism, vagrancy, and violence". In the current economic climate where people are criminalized for sleep and resorting to stealing food, increased police repression is likely to lead to increased violence. Or the silence of the police state.

Private security guards to supplement police patrols in downtown Santa Cruz

Posted: 09/03/2010 01:30:35 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge

... (A downtown Santa Cruz foot patrol officer talks with two downtown hosts Thursday. Beginning...)

SANTA CRUZ -- Downtown visitors will see more uniformed officers patrolling Pacific Avenue this month, but the new faces will not be police.

A pilot program that puts private security guards downtown during the morning and early afternoon launches Saturday. The aim is to provide an increased police presence in the business district plagued by vagrants, vandalism and violence, according to police and city leaders.

Three First Alarm security guards trained in municipal ordinances and equipped with police radios will share the daily patrols, which augment regular policing in the area, according to Kevin Vogel, interim Santa Cruz police chief.

The one-month trial run begins Saturday and will cost $5,000, police reported. It will be funded by the police department.

"We are looking for more creative, less expensive ways to provide additional public safety resources downtown," said Vogel, who took over leadership of the police department Wednesday. "First Alarm will be down there to enhance the staffing we already have downtown."

However, the private security officers will not carry guns and have no police powers. They can detain people -- akin to a citizen's arrest -- and will notify police dispatchers of problems that require the attention of a sworn officer.

"It's a proactive stance," Vogel said. "We want them walking around, talking to people."

Chip, the head of the Downtown Association who goes by one name, said business ownerssupport the police initiative.

"The more of a presence of enforcement downtown, the more security people have," he said.

City Manager Martin Bernal said the security guards will help "change the culture so that bad behavior is not acceptable." Because an arrest can tie up an officer for four hours or more, the guards are needed to provide more eyes and ears on the street, he said.

There are seven officers and a sergeant assigned to patrol downtown Santa Cruz, but that unit typically works in the afternoon and evening when downtown problems ramp up. A community service officer assigned to downtown is on leave.

The security guards will work an early shift when there are fewer police officers in the area, Vogel said.

Bernal noted that the city has yet to hire officers to fill all of the eight positions recently approved by the City Council. While officer candidates are vetted -- a lengthy process that involves background checks and training -- the cost of the security guards is coming from the money budgeted for new officers.

Cal Horton, president of First Alarm Security & Patrol Inc., said his company often provides support services to area law enforcement and this latest assignment is an exciting opportunity for his staff.

The Santa Cruz Police Department hires private security guards to beef up staffing for major events and certain holidays, such as Halloween and New Year's Eve. First Alarm guards man roadblocks in the Seabright neighborhood on July Fourth and patrol city property at night.

Sheriff Phil Wowak contracted a First Alarm guard to watch over a protest in which homeless campers staked out at the county courthouse steps earlier in the summer.

One security guard will be on patrol downtown from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily though Oct. 3, then the supplemental program will be evaluated to determine if it should continue, Vogel said.

"I think it's a great experiment," said Ryan Coonerty, a Santa Cruz councilman and downtown business owner. "It's amazing when you walk along with police officers how everyone straightens up and crime goes away, so the more often that happens, the better."

Sentinel staff writer J.M. Brown contributed to this report.

At a glance

private security
pilot project
Begins: Saturday, continues for a month
Cost: $5,000, paid from police department funds
Patrol area: Pacific Avenue and side streets
Staff: Three First Alarm security guards will be trained; one will patrol each day
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
SOURCE: Santa Cruz police

Support PeaceCamp2010 in their legal and life struggle to awaken the conscience of Santa Cruz. Call 423-4833.

Demand that City Manager Martin Bernal (the most powerful official in the City) stop the crackdown on the homeless community and the peaceful Peacecamp2010 vigilers. Call 420-5030.

Demand acting Police Chief Vogel instruct his officers not to ticket sleepers unless they can guarantee there's a shelter space available. Call 420-5810.

Demand the HSC come clean on its absence of summer shelter & issue a public letter to that effect that homeless people can use to officially inform police. Call 458-6020.

Demand City Council change the Sleeping Ban law to a law prohibiting camping or sleeping in a littered area, which would require homeless people to clean up the areas they sleep in, but not criminalize them for the act of sleeping. Call 420-5020.

These are all 24-hour numbers.


  1. The high-intensity spotlights and the generator were removed on Thursday September 2nd or thereabouts, returning a shroud of darkness to the front of City Hall and the side of the library across the street.

    Apparently officials felt that the new trespass law would either intimidate away or jail those who had been sleeping there.

    "Get it Done" Gary Johnson, as I call him, was still sleeping there throughout the week in spite of the escalating attacks.

    Rumor has it that Anna Richardson was arrested for sleeping last night.

  2. Is it not possible to raise funds to finance a new safe area to sleep that is legal? The city is spending a lot of money to be able to ignore the problem. Hireing more police, the courts time to deal with the problem and jail space to hide the people away must be costing the city a bit of money. Would it not be better to invest that money to solve the problem instead of pushing the problem out of sight, out of mind. If the churches in the area are not allowed to help by opening their doors for the homeless I am sure the members of the church would be willing to help those that are less fortunate.The people of Santa Cruz would want to give donates to help solve the situation I'm sure. The city government it seems is not able to find a cost efficiate solution, that would mean they would have to open their hearts and admit there is a problem, putting the money where it would be use to really help.Cleaning garbage up in the city could be the beginning, other jobs could be done by people that don't have a job and are forced to sleep outside.It would save the city money, to have people who's only crime is to sleep outside,and it would help support the facilaties to give them a safe sleeping environment.The problem is all over America. There has to be a creative solution that will help people get back on their feet. Being homeless could happen to anyone.
    A nonprofit group needs to establisched so funds could be collected.Can the Attorney set something up? It seems they will not change the law. Why not work together on the solution.

  3. Words of compassion and common sense.

    Hunger fasts in 1985 and 1986 forced City Council to open up a one season cold-and-rainy night shelter (the Cedar St. Shelter in what is now the Kuumbwa Jazz Center).

    Subsequent peaceful but civil disobedient protest created the River St. mini-Shelter, the Free Meal, and the temporary sometime-sanctuary of the Back Forty.

    Without power, compassion and common sense are routinely ignored by politicians, bureaucrats, and the poverty pimps who follow the funding.

    Hence Peacecamp2010


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