[Hpn] Sta. Cruz homeless camp aims to avoid fight

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 27 Jun 2001 15:50:18 -0700


Illegal camp aims to avoid fight

Published Wednesday, June 27, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Mercury News 

An attorney working with the residents of Camp Paradise says he hopes to
avoid a confrontation with Santa Cruz officials and police over the
clean-and-sober but illegal homeless campground on the banks of the San
Lorenzo River.

A police official said the rumor that Sunday has been set as the deadline
for evicting the campers is wrong. ``There's no truth to that,'' said Deputy
Police Chief Jeff Locke.

City law declares illegal campsites a ``public nuisance'' and authorizes
police to remove them ``forthwith.''

``It could happen today; it could happen tomorrow; it could happen a week
from now; it could happen a month from now,'' Locke said.

Attorney Paul Sanford, who is representing the campers, said, ``No one has
told me on the city's behalf that that is, in fact, the deadline.''

The camp is home to a core group of 15 people who have spruced up what was
once a needle-strewed area known as Heroin Alley, putting in not only tents
but crops, fences, decorations, a bridge, a bicycle-repair shop and a
goldfish pond. 

Most recently they added a portable toilet, which is being paid for by a
donor who wants to remain anonymous, Sanford said. ``There's no longer any
cause for concern about waste seeping into the river.''

Nevertheless, the campground is illegal under the city's camping ban, and
its location in a riverbank corridor also troubles people. At one time it
appeared that a confrontation with police was inevitable.

Now, Sanford said, ``I have had the opportunity to talk to representatives
of the city, and we're having a constructive dialogue about this issue. My
plan is more light and less heat. It's an awkward situation both for the
campers and for the city.''

Sanford, 44, is a program director for the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz as
well as an attorney. He said that camp leader Larry Templeton misspoke when
he used the word ``litigation'' when introducing Sanford at an open house
last Saturday.

Rather than suing the city, he said, the plan is to find another camp site.

``We're looking at any and all options,'' he said, ``including the Yellow
Pages under Campgrounds. We haven't found anything yet. We're trying to send
out a message to businesses, landowners, churches -- anybody who's got a
parcel'' the campers can use.

They would clean it up, if necessary, and can pay rent, Sanford said.

Meanwhile, talks with the city continue. The law that bans camping in Santa
Cruz also gives the city a smidgen of wiggle room, said City Attorney John

The city, for example, may designate a public camping area. An attempt to do
so in May 2000 was buried under an avalanche of outcries from those near the
city's then-designated safe-sleeping zones.

Barisone said that to ask the city to find Camp Paradise another spot would
be to put it in the ``untenable position'' of singling out one group for
special treatment.

Nevertheless, Sanford said, ``I don't think we're heading toward a
confrontation. I think there are reasonable people all around. I don't think
anyone wants to dishonor what they've accomplished'' at Camp Paradise.

One of the confrontations Locke hopes to avoid is between police and
homeless activists -- distinct from the campground's residents, whom Sanford
describes as ``working poor.''

Contact David L. Beck at dbeck@sjmercury.com or at (831) 423-0960.
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