Santa Cruz, CA Sitting Ban history: HUFF flyer/Becky Johnson FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 3 Sep 1998 15:56:22 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  20 Aug 1998  CC Replies to Becky Johnson <wmnofstl@cruzio.com>

Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)  831-423-4833
309 Cedar St. #14B  Santa Cruz, CA 95060  <mnofstl@cruzio.com>


     HISTORY OF THE SITTING BAN IN SANTA CRUZ [CA, USA]


1.   Pandering to Merchant Paranoia:  The Early Days

"Well there ain't no sitting in the City of Santa Cruz
 With its redwood trees and its ocean views
 It's the home of surfers and sad gurus
 But there ain't no sitting in Santa Cruz."
        ---Mark Levy, "No Sitting in Santa Cruz" Born to be Wired (1996)

        Singer and satirist Mark Levy wrote these lyrics for a catchy
little chanty he composed to support demonstrations against the Santa Cruz
City Sitting Ban.  The Ban, along with a fistfulof other anti-homeless
laws, passed a purportedly "Progressive" City Council in the spring of
1994.
        In-mid May '94 Santa Cruz police began issuing Sitcrime citations
to hungry soupsippers being served by Food Not Bombs at Cathcart and
Pacific streets (aka Friendship or Hippie Corner).  A week later scores of
people showed up with signs, banners, cameras, and tape recorders to sit
down.  The numbers grew to hundreds.  When a dozen were arrested, a dozen
more took their places.
        Police finally retreated, breaking one man's ribs and causing one
woman to miscarry.  Several hours later,  some angry teens, unconnected
with the protest, threw rocks through a few store windows, causing police
to declare the area a riot zone.   The next week even larger crowds came
downtown, protesting the SitBan and police wisely backed off.
Video-journalist and '60s civil rights activist Paul Brindel captured much
of the action in a documentaory that still plays regularly on Channel 72
(Community TV).
        All sleeping tickets were eventually thrown out.  Two judges
declared the law unconstiutional because its "warning" provision allowed
police to pick and choose who they chose to ticket--which was the point of
the law after all.  A redevelopment-minded City Council under one-time
liberal Scott Kennedy passed a second somewhat narrower Sitting Ban, making
sitting 10' from a shop, 50' from an ATM, or 4' from a phone or drinking
fountain  a crime.  Councilwoman Katherine Beiers, the only "no" vote,
backed a program to fund "Hosts", who would act as eyes and ears of the
police department.
        How did it all happen?  For a decade, homeless advocates had been
protesting the City's "go to sleep, go to jail" Sleeping Ban ordinance (MC
6.36) which made all sleeping outside or in vehicles criminal conduct.   In
1993, activists from HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)  set
up a petitioning table on the public sidewalk in front of then-Mayor and
Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Neal Coonerty's store.  (An act Coonerty made
illegal in one of the 1994 Downtown Ordinances).
        For two weeks around Xmas 1993, two homeless "street lawyers"  Won
Ton Dave Jacobs and Redtop Robert Flory, set up a display on the sidewalk
in downtown Santa Cruz consisting of a table and a cardboard "shantyhouse"
box to dramatize the refusal of the council and the merchants to let the
homeless sleep at night without harassment.  A year before, an appeals
court in Southern California had thrown out the Santa Ana Camping Ban and
civil rights advocates were hopeful.   Local progressives were angry that
liberal Santa Cruz was continuing to arrest homeless sleepers, even in the
face of the Tobe decision.
        When Flory and Jacobs set up a second week-long Shanty protest at
Valentine's Day, merchants activated their "earthquake alliance" with the
City Council to demand a set of laws that (a) strenghtened the Sleeping
Ban, (b) criminalized sitting, (c) outlawed peaceful panhandling in many
circumstances, (d) barred "objects on the sidewalk" (i.e. like the
Flory-Jacobs protest) after dark, (e) stopped petitioners and performers
from being in front of sidewalk cafes, and (f) required permits for protest
(non-commercial  events.   Sometime  liberals like Councilmembers  Beiers
and Kennedy were roped into the fold with threats and pleas to maintain the
"unity" that had developed between merchants and Council since the 1989
earthquake.
        No significant testimony was ever presented that any of this was
needed.  The Police Department gave no statistics showing any kind of crime
wave or how these laws would improve life downtown. It was simply the
brainchild and mindset of the Downtown Commission--a body stacked with
merchants eager to sweep the homeless out of sight.  Having funded the
Homeless Community Resource Center on the outskirts of town, they wanted
the homeless gone.  (In response activists announced a boycott against
Bookshop Santa Cruz, the ID Building, and five other high-profile merchant
supporters of the Downtown Ordinances--whose policies had been outspokenly
anti-homeless.
        "The Downtown Ordinances", read the protest button, "We Won't Stand
For Them!"  Under the leadership of the Coalition to Decriminalize Poverty
and  HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) activists drew
hundreds of supporters, whose bodies and voices challenged the Council's
crackdown.  For the next few years, the memory of so many people on the
street persuaded police and politicians to lay low on enforcement, moving
in to issue tickets only when people were alone and visibly poor.


2: Scattering Sitters: Police Policy Long Before the 1994 Ban

        We have seen how merchants and a redevelopment-minded City Council
responded to homeless protests against the City's 11 PM- 8:30 AM Sleeping
Ban.    Rather than deal with the disappearing human rights and missing
social services affecting 500-1500 homeless people at night who face $162
fines for sleeping or covering up with blankets, the Council  gave us the
Sitting Ban (MC 9.5.012).  Both bans provide for $162 fines for the first
offense; up to 6 months in jail and $1000 for subsequent  ones.
        Under the leadership of Bookshop Santa Cruz owner and former Mayor
Neal Coonerty, Council passed the Downtown Ordinances.   These laws also
restricted peaceful demonstrations,  barred even small political displays
at night, tightened the Sleeping Ban, outlawed street performing and/or
political tabling in front of street cafes, and prescribed jail for
peaceful sparechanging after dark.
        The year before in 1993,  Coonerty and the Downtown Commission
floated a trial balloon, the "Move on, Musicians!" law which prohibited
playing or performing for more than an hour in one spot.  The law was
laughed out of Council chambers.   It was essentially a grotesque parody of
the successful voluntary street performers guidelines that were drawn up in
1980 under the leadership of bubbleman and puppeteer Tom Noddy.   Noddy's
voluntary guidelines used peer pressure and voluntary compliance.   Seet
performers would be encouraged, but not required to move on to another spot
if requested to do so.
        The Guidelines, though completely without  legal force, commanded
significant respect on the streets.   Even the Downtown Hosts, widely and
accurately regarded as police snitches and cheapo minicops, occasionally
pulled the Guidelines out as an alternative to calling in the paddy wagon.
In the spring of 1996  City Council reversed itself on a "Drum Out the
Drummers" law in a nearly unprecedented action on the law's 2nd reading.
In a dramatic moment, after hearing several dozen opponents of the law, the
Council was swayed by  an offer from Noddy to set up mediation between
drummers, and residents.  Subsequently the drummers successfully drew up
their own guidelines.
        Removing seated "undesirables" from downtown was a
merchant/cop/politician goal well before 1994--in response to the '60s
counterculture and UCSC's arrival.   The pre-earthquake  planter-rich
Garden Mall, virtually lined end to end with comfortable waist-high
planters provided a 24-hour zone for socializing while sitting.   Workers
would  munch lunch and chat;  musicians would draw a crowd in a wooded
alcove; homeless people would cluster about a table petitioning for basic
rights and share food.   It was all a little too free and easy for yuppie
entrepreneurs, who preferred to herd tourists into their pay cafes and
eliminate homeless eyesores.
        Even before the earthquake, a progressive-labeled but
repressively-minded City Council under John Laird and Mardi Wormhoudt
schemed with Parks and Recreation director Jim Lang and former Police Chief
Jack Bassett to create a "new mall" with foliage, curves, and sittable
planter space cut back.   The 1989 earthquake gave these bureaucrats their
chance in spades to extend their vision of the "safer" "more upscale" mall:
a straight barren street, dotted with sparse vegetation and scrawny trees.
        This new gloomy sterile Pacific Avenue was directly lifted from
this "Clean Up the Downtown" Consortium.  Vision Santa Cruz, the planning
group that rebuilt the downtown, had no homeless people, no street
activists, no youth  on their panel.  It  quickly yielded power to
out-of-town developers.
        In the old days, the cops used 9.50.020 "Conduct on Public
Property"  which forbade "walking, sitting, standing, or lying upon
any...public property not designed or customarily used for such purposes"
to target "undesirables."   Under Muni Court Traffic Judge "Meatgrinder"
Mulligan, the law became a sure win for the police, regardless of how
contorted their story. [I still advise anyone facing Mulligan to disqualify
him before hand--it's worth the extra time--call HUFF for additional
advice.)
        Homeless activists fighting to overturn the Sleeping Ban recognized
the importance of fighting to retain the right to sit down in public
spaces.   They protested when Lang began to remove public benches under
merchant pressure without public notice or hearings.  IN 1990, 6 police
officers surrounded sitcriminal Linda Edwards to cite her under 9.50.020.
Others immediately joined her: the police backed off.
         In 1991 police repeatedly hauled away "Won Ton " Dave Jacobs as he
sat across the street from the Jahva house cafe for "blocking the
sidewalk."  Jacobs and the poor won a historical court trial when Muni
Court Judge Tom "Kangaroo" Kelly ruled that taking up less than 1/3 of the
sidewalk was not "obstructing".  Kelly actually moved the proceeding out
onto the 'crime scene' on the'sidewalk.  His vindication of Jacobs, however
did not stop police from further expeditions against the grizzled vet.
        Nearby merchants and cafe owners sometimes colluded to reach out
into supposedly public areas to separate poor people from their rights. For
the last seven years,   Even the supposedly hippie-friendly Jahva house has
barred Jacobs because he sat on the sidewalk and shared a joint half a
block away annoying a Planning Commissioner, whom the Jahva house managers
were eager to please.
        I was arrested in the Jahva house in 1992 after being served coffee
and taken to court for "trespass" for publicizing the owner's penchant for
locking out various outspoken homeless activists.  In 1994 the Jahva house
was strangely silent as City Council passed the "sit down, go to jail" law
that now makes any sitting outside the coffee shop illegal.

Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)  831-423-4833
309 Cedar St. #14B  Santa Cruz, CA 95060  wmnofstl@cruzio.com

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