Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Santa Cruz restricts peaceable public assemblies, fears backlash, loosens restrictions slightly

Human Rights abuse in itty-bitty Santa Cruz: [link]

"Santa Cruz City Council reverses restrictions on public assembly"
2013-12-10 commentary from "Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF)":
NOTE TO READER: HUFF member, Robert Norse, first alerted others that peaceable assembly was likely to be cut drastically by a new City ordinance. 4 HUFF members went directly to the local ACLU and sought action from this largely inactive chapter. Following this December 2nd meeting, ACLU members lobbied the City Council successfully to restore the restrictions as HUFF had sought. --- Becky Johnson of HUFF

HUFF Photo: ACLU deliberates at Louden Nelson Ctr. on Dec 2 2013, listens to HUFF members concerns re: loss of public space, harassment of homeless people by members of the SCPD, & about the limitations on peaceable assembly.

"City Council Right-Wingers Next Target: Public Assembly; Constricting and Restricting Public Assembly Back at City Council" 
commentary from "Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF)":
The Council will again be convening at the unusual time of 2 PM, Tuesday December 10.
Exact time is uncertain, but the laws are items #14 and #15, directly after the Consent Agenda. To be safe, show up at 2 PM. 
Probably because the Coronation of incoming Mayor “Rattlesnake” Robinson (so termed because of close collusion with the anti-homeless and vicious Drug War policies of Take Over Santa Cruz.
For those interested there traditionally been a post-coronation cakes-and-drinks celebration across the street in the Civic Auditorium to which the public is invited. This has been a chance to mingle with those in power and spend a little time indoors before returning to the freezing streets.

Agenda item #15 restrictvely rewrites the entire sections on public demonstrations for what were previously termed “Commercial and Non-commercial Events.” They have been relabeled “Public/Major Events” & “Public Gathering and Expression Events”
The staff report can be found at [].
Quite simply, the law rewrite criminalizes protests that have more than 50 participants (previously the “allowed” maximum was 100). permit requirement has now tightened apparently so that 50 rather than 100 people require a permit. Marching in the street is no longer provided for except through costly street closures. Permits must be applied for 5 days rather than 36 hours in advance.

The law passed 6-1 at the First Reading and is likely to slide thru the Council swamp like shit through a goose tomorrow. I pointed out that most protests don't seek permits—that's the point of protests: the First Amendment is our permit.
Repressive authority from Birminghan Alabama in the 60's the murdering generals in Egypt in 2013 have all used “permits” as a way of suppressing dissent.
I encourage indybay readers to examine this ordinance themselves. Like the Sidewalk Shrinkage ordinance severely reducing space for public performance, political tabling, panhandling, vending, and art display, this ordinance passed its first reading without police testimony that the current law has any problems.
Kathy Agnon, the Permitmeister, presented a very sunny account of the proposed new laws. She however didn't provide any documentary evidence indicating a history (either anecdotal or otherwise) of such problems.

My attempt to get public records was delayed by Agnon & other city staff, in spite of what I'd thought were assurances from Nydia Patino. I'd hoped to have records of permit applications and rejections for the last six months available. Accordingly, as usual, we have the staff's arguments in favor of laws instead of any solid evidence that there's a real problem that needs fixing. We need some more objective record beyond Agnon's expertise and good will.
For the texts of the old and new laws, go to [] and look up agenda item #12. You can also view the video of public testimony and Council discussion there.
The texts of the proposed Public Assembly-restricting new laws is also available at [] without the clarification of what's being changed.
If you value your right to publicly assemble and march in any cause, this ordinance should have a big red warning light attached to it, considering the make-up of the Council.

The likely next mayor (Lynn Robinson), and the past record of this Council and the City Manager in cutting back public space, public assembly, and public accessibility suggests empowering the police in unhealthy ways—even against smaller gatherings, to say nothing of the DIY New Year's Parade coming up in several weeks.
Considering the phony hysteria generated around “public safety” that is likely to be front and center on “Rattlesnake” Robinson's January agenda, further restrictions on the right to gather to demand redress of grievances is the last thing we want right now.

The parallel with the recent ordinance changes constricting street performance and art is instructive. The hypocrisy and special interest nature of the "display device" ordinance was obvious then and has become more obvious since.
Obstructive commercial signs have sprouted on the Pacific Avenue sidewalks in spite of the balleyhooed "trip and fall" pretext used to criminalize laying out a blanket.
This "danger" as well as the Robinson-Comstock-Mathews "upscale aesthetics' concerns also prompted the constriction of tabling, vending, and performance space, and the expansion of "forbidden zones" now encroaching on 95% of the sidewalks downtown for non-merchant activity.

But probably many have noticed that most every performer, vendor, even political tabler down there is in violation of the letter of the law as passed on September 24th—as pointed out in a recent Santa Cruz Weekly article.
Hosts and police have given out few if any citations, but harassment has stepped up. Some cops are now claiming that craftspeople are allowed to display their jewelry/art for donation only 6 times a year and must thereafter get a business license..
So may it be with this "Parade Permit" ordinance--last hauled out notoriously to ticket Whitney Wilde, Curtis Reliford, and Wes Modes for "walking in a parade without a permit" on a DIY New Years event 3-4 years ago.
I have been in at least several dozen marches down Pacific Avenue in the last few decades, probably more, and none of them had a permit. Nor were there citations, arrests, and/or prosecutions to my knowledge. But enabling police, the city attorney, and compliant bureaucrats with restrictive laws is not a good idea.
Defending the traditional freedoms Santa Cruz peaceful protesters have enjoyed ultimately requires exercising them. For the first time “political signs” were “allowed” in the Xmas parade last Saturday (though I've always ignored such clearly unconstitutional restrictions).
The ordinance coming up tomorrow on the afternoon agenda empowers more repression and makes spontaneous protest more risky, They need to be sent back for a public process of discussion--with those directly affected and with the public at large.
Earlier info on the first reading at [].

"Santa Cruz council reverses public gathering permit limit"
2013-12-10 by J.M. Brown from "Santa Cruz Sentinel" []:
SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday reversed an earlier decision to reduce the limit of public gatherings to 50 people before a city permit is required.
Five-time former mayor Mike Rotkin, speaking on behalf of the Santa Cruz County American Civil Liberties Union chapter, urged keeping the limit at 100. He said the city has not demonstrated how less than 100 participants in a rally or other event pose a public safety risk that would justify a restriction on free speech.
"Changing the threshold from 100 to 50 people would immediately impact the ability of people to organize protests at the town clock and county building steps," he said.
Mayor Hilary Bryant and Councilmen Don Lane and Micah Posner voted in favor of keeping the number at 100 on Nov. 26 but lost on a 4-3 majority. Posner raised the issue again Tuesday during a final reading of ordinance changes governing public expression and commercial events, and council members agreed unanimously to make the reversal.
"As public assemblies get larger, almost invariably there are traffic impacts," Posner said. "From the stand point of freedom of assembly, (traffic costs) shouldn't trump those considerations."
The city's special events coordinator, Kathy Agnone, said there are several public places downtown where more than 50 participants in rallies or other events can cause traffic problems, and the proposed rule change was designed to help the city plan better. The city permit would not cost anything unless a street closure was required.
"I positively regret that this was something seen as penalizing and criminalizing folks gathering because that's not what this is about," Agnone said. "We are really just trying to be reasonable and streamline the process."
Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews moved the proposed reversal as a good-will gesture, saying she hopes common sense will prevail.

Tuesday, the council approved on a 6-1 vote an agreement with the Santa Cruz Seaside Co. to share in revenues generated by improvements to the Beach Boardwalk's primary parking lot.
To ease traffic congestion on Beach Street and create more street parking during the peak summer season, the company has proposed $1 million in changes, including reconfiguring the lot to create 150 new spaces, add two entrances and establish pay stations upon exit.
Since 1984, the Boardwalk has collected a 10 percent tax for the city on its parking fees. The council agreed to return 50 percent of the tax revenue generated by the new spaces during the next 10 years not to exceed $200,000.
"We think these kinds of agreements spur economic activity," Seaside Co. spokesman Kris Reyes told the council, echoing Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb, who said the city has had to seek creative ways to form public-private parternships now that redevelopment has been eliminated.
Councilman Posner voted against the plan, saying the Boardwalk's annual profit on the new spaces -- expected to exceed $350,000 -- is sufficient to recoup its own investment in the lot with a few years. He called the tax-sharing agreement "an inappropriate use of public funds."
Vice Mayor Lynn Robinson disagreed, saying, "I understand there is a profit to be made, but there is a huge public benefit here that I see."
The council also OK'd allowing the Tannery Arts Center to seek a property tax exemption for the performing arts theater planned for the city-owned Hide House. The council also allowed dropping "Hide House" from the name to accommodate a significant naming-rights donor.
Tuesday, the council also approved setting a public hearing for March 11 to increase wastewater rates during a four-year period. To stabilize the wastewater budget and fund capital improvements, rates are proposed to increase nearly 6 percent each year on average for single-family users for three years then 2.5 percent in the final year.
The council also commended winners of the annual Officer Jim Howes Community Service Award: police officer Ken Deeg, outgoing city arts coordinator Crystal Birns and Santa Cruz Neighbors co-founder Michael Bethke. Howes retired after 26 years as a police officer known for community engagement.

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