Monday, September 30, 2013

Richmond City's "Eminent Domain for the People" program is making Wall Street banks furious

Despite humanitarian solutions, meaningless debate forces homelessness to persist.
A common-sense solution to saving people's lives and preventing homelessness is to open up vacant homes which have been left so by banks and land-speculators, to house families and workers immediately (with compensation to the vacant property owner), and to simply find ways to KEEP PEOPLE IN THEIR OWN HOMES, like the program being discussed in Richmond. Unfortunately, advocates against this solution will only focus on creating expensive shelters using public money which is otherwise not there, and so the advocates against positive solutions to squatting and property vacancy will claim there is no money for new shelters, and end the debate with that meaningless point, knowingly ignoring the families and workers who live with no shelter, real people who suffer becau
se of the bankrupt logic of protecting profits above people's needs!
Giving light to this so-called "debate" are two articles reproduced below, the first about the People's program in Richmond, the next about the money-draining solution being discussed in San Francisco.

"Richmond’s controversial housing plan takes step forward"
2013-12-18 by Nancy DeVille and Kevin N. Hume from "Richmond Confidential" []:
Richmond moved one step closer to implementing its eminent domain plan Tuesday night by tightening guidelines for the program, which aims to save struggling homeowners from foreclosure.
The approval of last night’s resolution for the program, called Richmond CARES, gives priority to neighborhoods hardest hit by the housing crisis and qualifies only those homeowners who have balances below the conforming loan limit. The council also instructed city staff to reach out to banks in search of alternative principal reduction strategies and to seek partner cities to form a Joint Powers Authority. While the agenda item was approved 4-2, the city’s eminent domain plan needs the council’s supermajority for final approval.
“It is the community that is driving this program and the homeowners that have so much to lose,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the item’s sponsor. “Today is an opportunity for us to move to the next step and show our strength not to bow to Wall Street.”
McLaughlin said the city would only use eminent domain “when a clear public purpose is served.”
It was standing room only in the Council chambers, and dozens of residents and community leaders toted signs in support of the plan.
Although Richmond remains the first city in the country to consider using eminent domain to stem foreclosures, McLaughlin said cities across the country – including San Francisco, El Monte, Seattle, WA, Yonkers, NY, Irvington, NJ – are mulling the idea and have expressed support for Richmond.
With nearly half of the mortgages in Richmond underwater, the city is proposing to buy properties at current market value in hopes of preventing another wave of foreclosures.
Richmond officials are planning to use the city’s eminent domain power to seize the mortgages that banks refuse to or reduce, slash the value to current market value, and resell them to other lenders. The program could reduce the principal owed by homeowners, ultimately making monthly payments more manageable.
“We’re here today saying that it’s time for a local solution,” community organizer Melvin Willis said. “The financial industry doesn’t rule us. We are standing up to Wall Street.”
While most residents spoke in favor of the plan, some still worry eminent domain isn’t the solution.
“I have no problem with sticking it to the banks, but for the most part the banks no longer own these loans,” said Richmond resident Don Gosney. “While we all want to see distressed homeowners find a solution to this problem, this is the wrong approach.”
Vice Mayor Corky Booze and Councilman Jim Rogers, who voted against the resolution, both expressed concern about the potential financial and legal risks to the city. Bates, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, sent an email to the council proposing a ballot initiative that would allow citizens to vote on the eminent domain plan in 2014.
“I understand it’s fun to be risky… but my job is not to listen to my anger, my job is to try to make the best decision for the city of Richmond,” Rogers said. “Until we resolve the liability issue, it’s a deal breaker for me.”
With banging drums and soaring chants, more than 100 people rallied outside of City Hall ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in support of the housing plan.
“You’re not alone,” Doris Ducre said. “Hang in there. Fight. We will win.”
Despite the fanfare, Constance Delany said she’s still leery.
“Have you tried anything else?” Delany asked the council members. “I don’t like to see the housing crisis destroying city after city, but when I hear eminent domain, red flags go up. I’m seriously concerned about the motives behind the slogan.”

"National Attention on  Richmond Versus Banks"
2013-09-30 from "Labor Notes Bay Area" newsletter:
The Richmond City Council plan to fight blight and maintain neighborhoods has drawn national attention in the media and opposition from banks, realtors and investor groups. The plan provides for the city to encourage "Principle Reductions" on underwater mortgages with reduced payments to allow people to stay in their homes and will consider using "eminent domain" powers if necessary. The finance industry has responded with court suits (recently thrown out) and expensive mailing and PR campaigns led by "liberal" PR firm, Whitehurst/Mosher, which does a lot of work for SEIU and Democratic Party campaigns.
Despite the well-financed opposition, other cities in California, including San Francisco are considering adopting the same strategy.
The Richmond plan has already drawn support from the Building Trades in Contra Costa and San Francisco. In a letter dated August 1, the Contra Costa Building Trades Council sent a letter to Mayor McLaughlin commending her and the Council "for becoming the first city in the nation to use eminent domain to stop foreclosures."
"Many of the Richmond residents were steered into predatory loans which are generally the most unfavorable to borrowers and they have been struggling to stay in their homes.  Keeping Richmond residents in their homes is needed to fight blight and keep the community intact.
"This is not only beneficial for the homeowners who are our members but also a benefit for the entire community.  We commend you for approaching this problem in a new and creative way."
More support from labor is needed.
The campaign is led by ACCE working with the Richmond Mayor, Council, and city staff and Mortgage Resolution Partners.

For more information:
* Richmond CARES []  
* ACCE Home Defenders League []
* Richmond Progressive Alliance Newsletter []

"Meet the Mayor Who’s Using Eminent Domain to Fight Foreclosure; The fearless Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, California, has taken on Chevron and big banks on behalf of taxpayers and underwater homeowners"

2013-11-20 by Laura Flanders from "The Nation" []
Gayle McLaughlin is serving her second term as mayor of Richmond, California, the first Green Party official to represent a city of more than 100,000. Last year, after a fire at a local Chevron refinery sent 15,000 residents to the hospital, the city sued the company for damages. Now McLaughlin’s advancing a plan to use the city’s eminent domain power to acquire troubled loans so as to stop a new wave of foreclosures. This interview has been edited and condensed. —Laura Flanders

LAURA FLANDERS: You’re just back from Ecuador, where you toured communities that, like Richmond, are in a struggle with Chevron. Isn’t it enough to take on your city’s biggest taxpayer? Why take on the big banks too?
GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Chevron does pay a lot of taxes. We don’t think it’s nearly enough. We have a right to have safety for our community. That’s why we put forth our lawsuit—to make sure they put our community before their profits. And that’s why we’ve come up with our new program [to help underwater homeowners].

LF: An article in today’s New York Times is headlined “Settlement Report Finds Banks Giving Timely Mortgage Relief.” What’s the problem?

GM: Much of the so-called “relief” has come in the form of short sales, which means more families losing their housing and neighborhoods destabilized. We’re working to keep more families in their homes! The settlement did lead to some more homeowners getting modifications with principal reduction, but the problem has been that the numbers are just too small compared with the scale of the problem. We need a broader market fix that resets mortgages to current home values.

LF: So what’s your plan?
GM: The Richmond CARES program is focused on preventing foreclosures, keeping people in their homes and stabilizing neighborhoods.

LF: You tried to explain it in person to the CEO of Wells Fargo. What happened?
GM. I went with a whole coalition of community organizations to Wells Fargo’s head office. We were making it clear that the banks should negotiate with Richmond. They shouldn’t be taking us to court. The idea was to talk with him and invite him to come see our neighborhoods. They locked their doors and wouldn’t meet.

LF: In addition to a lawsuit from Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, the real estate lobby is working against you, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency has threatened sanctions against “any local or state action” that uses eminent domain to restructure mortgage loan contracts. Are you concerned?
GM: We have researched this very thoroughly. First, we have offered to buy the mortgages from the bond owners at fair market value. We’ll have them appraised by a third party. We want to negotiate, but secondly, we have the right to use eminent domain for a public purpose. It’s been used for all the wrong reasons, such as moving people out of their homes for big stores.

LF: What difference does it make that you have groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment at your back?
GM: It makes all the difference in the world. We need homeowners involved in designing the program. That’s how we built the movement in Richmond and how we’re extending it to other cities. With all the misinformation put out there by Wall Street, it becomes imperative that we have people sharing the truth and overcoming the false messages put out by the opposition.

LF: Is it good that you’re Green?
GM: It’s the independent thinking that makes the difference. One party is moving us into a brick wall at 100 mph. The other is moving us there at 50 mph. We’re still going in the wrong direction, in my view.

LF: Anything else?
GM: In Richmond we’re solvent, we’ve reduced crime and we have a new General Plan based on sustainability and equity. I’m termed out, and next year we’re going to have a battle on our hands. They’re going to throw a mountain of money against the progressive candidates.

2013-09-03 "Community helps Richmond homeowners, Wall Street hates it"
from "SEIU 1021 NewsWire":  
A new City of Richmond program helps victims of the housing crisis stay in their homes -- and Wall Street banks hate it.
This summer SEIU 1021 joined the mayor of Richmond, ACCE, and other community allies to announce a first-in-the-nation program to help low-income minority residents who were victims of predatory, subprime lenders.
The program would allow the city to purchase underwater mortgages and refinance or modify them to reduce the principal to a level more in line with market values throughout the struggling city. If banks and lenders refuse to sell the mortgages, the city will use eminent domain to purchase the loans.
Now the program is getting lots of publicity because the banks are panic-stricken and suing the city to stop the program in its tracks before the idea spreads nationwide.
"One way to judge the virtues of the city of Richmond's initiative to use eminent domain to help its strapped mortgage borrowers is by the hysterical reaction of the banks and investors holding the mortgage loans," wrote the LA Times. "They've enlisted federal regulators ... [and] have even cajoled some of their housebroken congressmen into introducing legislation to stop Richmond in its tracks. ... So there must be something to the city's idea."

2013-08-31 "Richmond's Local Principal Reduction program"
message from Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin:
Dear Friends:
Hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful Bay Area weather we have been experiencing!
I know most of you have heard about Richmond's innovative program to reduce mortgage principals as an anti-blight campaign to improve and stabilize our neighborhoods!
Here is a great column about Richmond's program that was published in today's LA Times. 
Please take a moment to read this column [,0,1360275.column]

2013-06-16 "A rescue for Richmond's underwater mortgages?"
by Carolyn Said []:
Morris LeGrande, (left) with ACCE, (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) asks for a show of hands of homes currently underwater, during a public meeting the Nevin Community Center in Richmond, Calif. on Saturday June 15, 2013. (Michael Macor, Michael Macor/The Chronicle)

Almost 100 Richmond residents held a spirited meeting in a community center Saturday to build support for a revolutionary plan to revamp many of the troubled mortgages in the city.
Beleaguered by the foreclosure crisis, Richmond is on the verge of pioneering the use of eminent domain as a tool to seize and restructure loans on underwater homes, slashing many thousands of dollars off their principal. It's an untested approach fiercely opposed by banks, which say it's an illegal use of power that threatens mortgage lending and property rights.
"We can change the course in Richmond and make it a model for other cities," Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told a cheering crowd. Earlier, when asked how many of them were underwater with their mortgages, almost every single person had raised a hand.
Despite the real estate market's recent rebound, Richmond remains a deeply distressed city, with one of the highest underwater rates in the state. Almost half of all homeowners with mortgages there owe more than their houses are worth, according to real estate service
"The housing crisis continues in Richmond," McLaughlin said. "People's lives did not get bailed out."

Partner in plan -
Richmond's City Council voted 6-1 in March to partner with a San Francisco firm, Mortgage Resolution Partners, as an adviser on the plan. MRP would line up investors to lend Richmond the money to acquire the mortgages and then would help refinance them into Federal Housing Administration loans, earning a flat fee of $4,500 per mortgage.
"My investors want to make a return, but our primary motive is to help this intractable problem that drags down the whole economy: People are being thrown out of their homes," said MRP Executive Chairman Steven Gluckstern, a serial entrepreneur with a Wall Street pedigree.
"We're a small startup of five people that raised millions of dollars from 50 individuals who care about this issue," he said. Those investors include former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who is a Chronicle columnist.

Threats from banks -
Other local governments, including San Bernardino County and the city of Salinas, have considered working with MRP, but backed down under the threat of legal action from banks.
Rodney Conway, 52, a disabled Navy vet who lost his longtime letter-carrier job a few years ago, is among those hoping for help. He and his wife paid $340,000 for a modest two-bedroom home in Richmond in 2004. Today it's worth about $140,000. They have stayed current on their payments but still owe $320,000 and have no hope of ever having equity.
"We're basically renting this house for $2,000 a month until I die," said Conway. "It will never get paid off."
But the eminent domain plan could change all that. Here's how it would work:
Richmond would approach the financial organization that holds Conway's loan and offer to buy it at a discount to the property's value. If the offer were refused, the city would invoke eminent domain to compel a purchase, paying 80 percent of the property's current value, or $112,000. That discount is based on pricing for other underwater loans that change hands, Gluckstern said.

Fair market value -
Eminent domain, which is most commonly used to acquire private property for such public uses as freeways, parks and utility rights-of-way, requires paying fair market value.
Richmond would then help Conway get a regular loan from an FHA lender for 95 percent of the property's value, or $133,000. That would leave him with 5 percent equity and would cut his monthly payments by two-thirds to $635.
The $133,000 would first repay the $112,000 fronted by the investors. The remaining $21,000 would be split three ways, among the investors, the city and expenses. RMP's flat fee would come out of the expenses.
"To make (the house) affordable for what it's worth would be wonderful," Conway said. "We could finally get a foothold. I would bite the bullet to get that principal lowered down and keep making our old (higher) payments for a year or so."
But that assumes the plan goes through. In reality, it will face huge legal challenges from the get-go, which MRP says it will litigate.
"If it goes to the Supreme Court, I'll stand with it. That's how strongly I feel," McLaughlin, the mayor, said in an interview.

'Costly litigation' -
If the city seizes mortgages via eminent domain, "Richmond may be tied up in costly litigation for years to come," 22 banking and real estate trade groups wrote in a strongly worded letter to city leaders. The tactic will make it much harder and more expensive for Richmond residents to get mortgages in the future, they said. Moreover, the mortgage-backed securities the plan would target are held by many "everyday savers and investors," they said.
"Using the power of eminent domain to abrogate a contractual agreement between borrower and creditor would have far greater and lasting negative effects on existing and future Richmond homeowners and on small Main Street investors from Richmond and elsewhere who have these investments in their pension plans and other savings vehicles," they wrote.
Richard Green, director of the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate, said he understands the frustration that's led city leaders to consider using eminent domain, but thinks the reality would be a lot harder to manage than they realize.
"I think threatening to do it is a good idea and may motivate lenders to help solve problems," he said. "Actually doing it is not a good idea."

Eminent domain as housing fix  -
What: Richmond is considering a plan to use eminent domain to seize mortgages on underwater homes and restructure them to be more affordable. Governments ordinarily use this power to forcibly acquire private property for public use, such as roads. It requires paying fair market value for the property.
Who: To be eligible initially, homeowners would have to be current on their payments and not have a government-backed mortgage. Homeowners behind on payments could be eligible in the future.
How it works: Consider a home that sold for $360,000 and is now worth $200,000, while the homeowners still owe $300,000 on it. If they couldn't refinance, their interest rate might be 6 percent, meaning monthly payments of $1,800.
Richmond would seize the mortgage from private bondholders.
Its partner, Mortgage Resolution Partners, would find investors to pay $160,000 for it: the property's value minus 20 percent - the estimated costs if it went through foreclosure.
The homeowner would refinance the mortgage through a Federal Housing Administration loan at $190,000, or 95 percent of the value, leaving them with 5 percent equity. At an interest rate of 4 percent, their new monthly payment would be $907 - about half of what they were previously paying.
The $190,000 would pay back the $160,000 fronted by the investors. The remaining $30,000 would be split three ways: among the city, the investors and for costs - including a flat fee of $4,500 to Mortgage Resolution Partners.
Why: The idea is to prevent foreclosures by giving people whose homes are deeply underwater more sustainable payments and the ability to gain equity.
Source: Chronicle research

Richmond  -
47 percent: Share of mortgaged homes underwater
$728 million: Total in negative equity
7.3 percent: Share of mortgages behind on payments
$191,700: Median home value
-58.6 percent: Change in home value from peak

Comment to the following article from Mike: If we had real statewide funding for basic homeless services and temporary housing, there would not be such a migration of folk from under-served areas [to San Francisco]. Current policy shunts folk from high cost areas with few or no services to metro areas where costs might be more manageable, especially transportation and medical access. The state however, has devolved almost all social services that would serve the homeless to local counties with no funding source to provide those services. This has truly become a race to the bottom. The waiting list for most families applying for Section 8 vouchers is now two to three years - condemning people to hang out on the streets and sleep in their cars until their number comes up. This obviously does irreparable damage to children and other members of the household. Saying we can't afford to relieve their misery is no excuse.

"Unnecessary uproar over plan favoring SF's homeless"
by C.W. Nevius from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
It would be a wonderful thing if San Francisco had so much money and so many resources that it could house every homeless family that stopped in the city.
It doesn't.
In fact, there's a shortage. For at least the past year, there have been more than 200 families on a waiting list to get shelter in the city. The wait for housing is more than seven months, and the list isn't getting any shorter.
Clearly San Francisco cannot be the provider for every homeless family in Northern California. Logically, the city should concentrate on families that live in San Francisco. Because if there are families on the list now who are living somewhere else, they're taking up a spot on the list that should go to a local family.
That much is a given. I believe even the most vociferous critics of city policy would agree.
That's why Human Services Director Trent Rhorer has proposed a policy that would limit eligibility for the shelter list to local residents (or families that intend to reside in San Francisco). There are probably cities where that wouldn't raise a hint of controversy.
Those cities are not San Francisco.
The outcry began immediately. There were complaints that this is a solution in search of a problem. Gripes that there is not enough data. And, when there is data, doubts that it is accurate.
A Thursday hearing chaired by Supervisor David Campos degenerated into a statistical face-off, with every group coming up with different numbers.
The Human Services Agency says its data showed almost 50 percent of the homeless families on the waiting list were not residents. But Compass Connecting Point, the nonprofit that manages the waiting list, says the number is more like 10 percent.
Rhorer says 40 percent of the homeless families on the waiting list are not signed up for CalWORKs (which is essentially the new name for welfare), but Campos says he's heard that virtually all the families are participating.

Knee-jerk reaction -
The number-squabbling brought the proceedings to a standstill.
"I'm not saying who is right," Campos said. "But my concern is: What is the problem and do we have the data?"
Here's a better question. What difference does it make?
If it is really true that 50 percent of the families are not San Francisco residents, the new requirement would address that. If there are only a small number, like 10 percent, what's the problem? It won't affect many people anyhow. Either way, San Francisco residents benefit.
This looks more like a knee-jerk reaction to anything that changes anything about dealing with homelessness. If you'd like to talk about factors that are not data driven, where's the evidence that asking families to verify residency will decrease the number of homeless families in shelters?
Rhorer's plan has five criteria, any one of which would qualify the family: application or admission to CalWORKs in the city, employment in the city, a child in a San Francisco school or preschool, living in a city homeless shelter for 14 nights, or proof of residency in a friend or family member's San Francisco home, transitional housing or even jail or a hospital.
"It's not outlandish," Rhorer says. "In fact, applying for CalWORKs is something good. They offer child care, job placement and the most robust services in the state. We got 2,000 people jobs last year. That's a good thing."

Working with critics -
Don't expect any agreement on that.
"No one disagrees that we want to take advantage of CalWORKs," Campos said. "But is the best way to increase it to require it or to remove barriers?"
Again, who cares? If requiring it increases participation, terrific. If they don't sign up, well, that's where we are now. What's the difference?
It is also important to remember that Rhorer doesn't need the approval of the Board of Supervisors to do this. He is trying to work with critics, but technically he can impose the policy whenever he's ready.
This isn't a new idea. Rhorer has been talking about trying to find a way to make local services work for local residents for years. I have to think he's held off because he knew the criticism would be so over the top. I asked him why he decided to take a stand now.
"The better question is: Why did it take us so long?" he said.

2013-07-31 "Richmond's pioneering eminent-domain threat"
by Carolyn Said from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Homeowners and local officials stood on the steps of Richmond City Hall to praise the new plan Tuesday July 30, 2013. The city of Richmond, Calif. is teaming with private investors to buy up over 600 mortgages in the city from large banks to help homeowners redo their loans so they can stay in their homes. Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

Taking a controversial plunge into uncharted waters, Richmond is poised to become the first city in the country to invoke eminent domain to address its foreclosure crisis.
"After years of waiting on the banks to offer up a more comprehensive fix or the federal government, we're stepping into the void to make it happen ourselves," Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Tuesday.
On Monday the city sent letters to 32 banks and other mortgage holders offering to buy 624 underwater mortgages at discounts to the homes' current value. If the offers are spurned, the letter said Richmond may use the power of eminent domain to condemn the mortgages and seize them, paying court-determined fair market value.
The city would then help the underwater homeowners refinance into mortgages in line with their homes' current worth. City leaders said the goal is to stabilize the community and prevent foreclosures.
Wall Street vehemently opposes the untested idea, claiming it violates property rights and would have a chilling effect on future mortgages in Richmond and could lead to years of costly litigation.
"We think it is unconstitutional, illegal and very bad policy," said Chris Killian, managing director of the Securities and Financial Markets Association, a trade group representing banks, securities firms and others.

Could raise costs -
Banks said future mortgages in Richmond would likely be much more expensive to compensate for the extra risk that the city could seize them. McLaughlin characterized that as "redlining" and said the city would fight it.
"Mortgage lending is a business, and lenders and mortgage investors have to say what kind of return they want and how much risk" they can tolerate, Killian said. "That's just the way markets work. If you buy a car and they say the brakes don't work all the time, would you pay full price?"
Wells Fargo, one of the largest mortgage holders in Richmond, said in a statement: "We believe this approach will harm mortgage investors, the housing market, and the communities and borrowers that its proponents claim they would be helping."
Richmond has partnered with San Francisco firm Mortgage Resolution Partners for technical assistance and financial backing.
MRP has said it will handle all legal costs - which could be substantial.
The for-profit firm, which would receive a flat fee of $4,500 per mortgage, will provide funds to acquire the mortgages and then will help the homeowners refinance into loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
Many of the underwater mortgages were issued several years ago when interest rates were much higher. Plan proponents said that if Richmond's 4,600 underwater mortgages were reset to the homes' current market value and current interest rates, the homeowners would save an average of $1,180 a month on mortgage payments.
However, even backers said the plan can't be extended to every underwater mortgage in the city. Instead, it concentrates on ones that are not government backed and are held in Wall Street instruments called private securitization trusts.
The recent surge in home values hasn't helped Richmond, where 47 percent of mortgages are still underwater, according to real estate firm
"In our community we have not seen nor felt any impacts of that" market rebound, said Morris LeGrand, whose Richmond home is worth about $130,000 - far less than he owes on it. "I'm a homeowner by technicality only," he said. "I will never own this home under the current conditions."

Using eminent domain -
Eminent domain, which is used to acquire private property for public use, is more commonly associated with government-related development projects, such as buying houses to build a freeway or an airport. It requires paying fair market value for the seized property. Government bodies go before a jury to establish what would be a fair price.
Before that could happen, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge would determine whether the city had the right to exercise eminent domain, said Bill Falik, an attorney and a partner in MRP.
"Richmond has tremendous legal authority to condemn underwater mortgages," he said. "It doesn't matter if this is a highway project. Foreclosures and underwater properties reduce property taxes and reduce neighboring homes' value. That's called blight, and eminent domain is the authority for cities like Richmond to correct blight."
Richmond and MRP want to buy the mortgages for 80 percent of the homes' current values, leaving a margin for profits and expenses. MRP says the 20 percent discount is what the banks would lose if the home went through foreclosure.

More cities in line -
Several other cities, including North Las Vegas and the Southern California towns of El Monte and La Puente, are considering partnering with MRP. San Bernardino County as well as two of its cities, Fontana and Ontario, had previously looked at the idea but then dropped it in the face of fierce opposition from the banking industry.
"Richmond is not afraid to create innovative policies," said City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, standing on the steps of Richmond City Hall surrounded by several dozen supporters Tuesday, many from the activist group the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. "In extreme times we create extreme solutions."
When local real estate broker Jeffrey Wright said he opposed the eminent domain plan as "fraught with peril" and bad for the housing market, the ACCE members loudly jeered at him.

Richmond's plan -
Richmond hopes to pioneer an unorthodox use of eminent domain power to seize and restructure underwater mortgages. Here's how it would work:
Richmond and Mortgage Resolution Partners - a private firm that is handling the financial side - want to pay 80 percent of the homes' current value, leaving a margin for profits and expenses. MRP says the 20 percent discount is what the banks would lose if a home went through foreclosure.
For instance, if a home with a $300,000 mortgage is now worth $200,000, Richmond would seize the mortgage from the private bondholders who own it for $160,000, or 80 percent of $200,000.
The homeowner would then refinance at $190,000 - or 95 percent of the value. That would leave the homeowner with 5 percent equity. The $190,000 mortgage would pay back the $160,000 used to acquire the loan. The remaining $30,000 would be split among the city, the investors and for costs, including MRP's $4,500 fee.

By the numbers -
624 Loans Richmond has made offers on
444 Loans current on payments
180 Loans delinquent on payments
32 Servicers for those loans
$241.98 million Total face value of those 624 mortgages
$177.16 million Total current market value of the 624 homes
$68.82 million Negative equity in the homes

2013-08-20 Pricey homes in Richmond's eminent domain plan"
by Carolyn Said from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Richmond's controversial plan to seize underwater mortgages through eminent domain includes loans for at least two homes purchased for over $1 million as well as other high-end properties - a revelation that appears to undermine the city's argument that the plan would combat blight.
The city is pursuing mortgages with balances ranging from $98,000 to $1.12 million, according to data collected by Marc Joffe, an analyst who received the property addresses, loan balances, offer amounts and other information through a California public records request and shared them with The Chronicle.
Richmond threatened last month to become the first city in the country to invoke eminent domain for underwater mortgages when it sent letters to 32 banks and other entities asking to purchase 624 home loans at a discount to current property values. If the institutions declined, the city said it would consider forcibly acquiring the mortgages through eminent domain. It would then help the homeowners refinance into smaller, more-affordable loans.
Eminent domain is the seizure of private property for a public purpose. City leaders argued that the public purpose is to keep families in their homes and prevent blight and the destabilizing impact of foreclosures. Banks say the plan is unconstitutional and would drive up lending costs in Richmond.
The data show the targeted loan balances are fairly high. A total of 121 loans are for over $500,000, with 43 above $600,000. The average loan balance is $387,800; the median is $378,920.
Richmond's offers, which are closer to what it considers current market value, include 30 for more than $400,000 and 108 for above $300,000. The average offer is $202,678; the median is $179,900.

Undercuts argument -
"Richmond is framing this issue as trying to protect down-and-out people struggling to get by against the rich banks," Joffe said. "It undercuts their argument" to have higher-end homes and loans involved. "You think they'd be careful enough to select properties of people who were really needy." If the homes in upscale areas went into foreclosure, they'd be quickly purchased, Joffe said, rather than sit vacant and contribute to blight.
Joffe, a Walnut Creek resident who consults for New York's PF2 Securities Evaluations, which offers advice on structured-finance valuations and lawsuits, said he has no financial relationship with any of the entities that control the mortgages.
Steven Gluckstern, chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners, the private San Francisco company that is providing Richmond with financial backing, technical advice and legal resources, said the location of the homes and their prior values aren't relevant.
"We don't discriminate against anyone in this program," he said. "We don't pick and choose who's entitled to their property and who isn't. The criteria for which loans were chosen is how much underwater they are and the propensity to default."

A final cut -
Patrick Lynch, Richmond's housing director, said that the city sent out the letters before performing due diligence on the properties selected by MRP, but that the city would vet the choices before it would proceed with eminent domain seizures. It is quite possible that the homes in nicer areas would not make the final cut, he said.
Richmond "would look at a number of indicators," he said. "I think one of those indicators may be the assessed property valuation, not only for that house, but for the surrounding street and neighborhood. We as a city have a sense of blight different than an appraiser, so how many houses on that street are foreclosed or underwater could be an indicator, as well as the overall health of the neighborhood."
A map of the homes targeted so far shows them evenly dispersed throughout Richmond. Nine are in Point Richmond, the city's most expensive neighborhood; 14 are in neighboring Brickyard Cove, an upscale waterfront condo community. Forty-three are in Marina Bay, another waterfront condo community.

2013-08-08 "In a Tizzy, Wall Street Banks File Suit over 'Eminent Domain for the People'; City consultant: 'The financial institutions that brought us this crisis are yet again part of the problem rather than part of the solution'"
by Sarah Lazare from "Common Dreams" []:
As threatened, Wall Street banks have now slammed the city of Richmond, California with a federal lawsuit in an attempt to block an innovative plan which would use local governmental authority of eminent domain to force banks not to foreclose on people's homes.
Housing justice advocates and government consultants say that banks are scared of a hopeful new strategy to curb the ongoing U.S. housing crisis, a solution they hope will spread beyond this poor and working class city of 100,000.
Filed by banking giants Wells Fargo & Co. and Deutsche Bank, and with the help of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the suit followed a tizzy of public legal threats from big banks aimed at intimidating Richmond and other municipalities from pursuing such plans in the first place.
Richmond became the first California city last week to lay out the strategy of asking big bank lenders to sell underwater mortgage loans at a discount to the city (if the owner consents), and seize those homes through eminent domain if the banks refuse. Then, according to the plan, the city would refinance these homes for owners at their current value, not what is owed, thus reducing the mortgage burden for its citizens and helping to stabilize the housing market.
As previously reported by Common Dreams, the plan marks a new twist on eminent domain laws, which have been traditionally used by cities to displace poor and working class people and communities of color from their homes to make way for big money projects like stadiums and highways.
"If it happens and happens successfully, it will spread like a wildfire," Steven Gluckstern, chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners which helped design the plan, told the Sacramento Bee. "That's one of the reasons the opposition is working so hard to prevent us from being successful."
"Sadly," he added, "the financial institutions that brought us this crisis are yet again part of the problem rather than part of the solution."
The Richmond initiative, which was won through sustained community organizing urging the government to address the severe housing crisis, appears to be gaining traction across the United States, with at least four other California municipalities considering the plan [].
California housing justice organizers told Common Dreams they feel hopeful about this local initiative to use laws already on the books—that have historically been levied against poor people—to help residents stay in their homes. They insist that, in the face of the complete failure of the Obama administration to enact a solution to the housing crisis, local solutions such as this will become more and more important.

2013-08-07 "'Eminent Domain for the People' Leaves Wall Street Furious; Housing justice advocates hopeful about innovative Richmond plan to use public seizure laws to save underwater homes from foreclosure" 
by Sarah Lazare from "Common Dreams" []:
Using the authority of state government to actually help people has Wall Street bankers in a panic, spurring threats of aggressive legal retaliation against the town of Richmond, California simply for trying to help some of its struggling homeowners.
'Eminent domain' has long been a dirty term for housing justice advocates who have seen municipalities invoke public seizure laws to displace residents and communities to make way for highways, shopping malls, and other big dollar projects.
But in Richmond, city officials are using eminent domain to force big banks to stop foreclosing on people's homes in an innovative new strategy known as 'Principle Reduction' aimed at addressing California's burgeoning housing crisis.
Richmond became the first California city last week to move forward on a plan that has been floated by other California municipalities to ask big bank lenders to sell underwater mortgage loans at a discount to the city (if the owner consents), and seize those homes through eminent domain if the banks refuse. The city has committed to refinancing these homes for owners at their current value, not what is owed.
City officials launched this process by sending letters in late July to 32 banks and other mortgage owners offering to buy 624 underwater mortgages at the price the homes are worth, not what the owners owe.
"After years of waiting on the banks to offer up a more comprehensive fix or the federal government, we're stepping into the void to make it happen ourselves," Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in late July.
Wall Street is furious at the plan and has vowed to sue the municipality, a threat that did not stop Richmond but did slow other California cities in adopting the strategy.
Big banks have been slammed for their damaging mortgage loan policies that target poor and working class people and communities of color with high risk loans, policies that have had a profound impact on Richmond, which has large latino, African American, and low-income communities.
Eminent domain laws also have a painful history in Richmond, but housing justice advocates are hopeful about this new twist on the seizure law.
"For years we have seen cases where eminent domain was used in a harmful way, and it really hurts low-income communities of color," David Sharples, local director for Contra Costa Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, told Common Dreams. "People here in Richmond talk about when they built the big 580 Freeway, and people had their houses taken and were displaced."
"But we see this as a way eminent domain is finally being used to help keep families in their homes," he added. "It is finally a way for it to be used in a good way."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Santa Cruz attacks independent arts, culture and artisan vendors

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

* HUFF Cafe upholds, defends and restores inDIYpendent culture (if for only 2 hours) [link], which also details the threatening presence of armed police and intelligence agents...
* Santa Cruz Police terrorize elderly lady selling scarves in downtown, 2014-02-21 [link]
* 2014-02, Santa Cruz attacks another respected street performer: The Great Morgani [link]

Graphic from "HUFF - Santa Cruz":

"Shrinking Sidewalks and the Permit Fantasy"
2013-11-09 by Robert Norse:
The attack on street performers, activists, and artists downtown to seems to me directly related to the ongoing sub-humanization of the homeless population through Drug War smears, "lazy bum" stereotypes, and "public safety"  scare stories.   Many of the street performers are themselves homeless or travelers.  There is a fundamental push to Carmel-ize Santa Cruz by right-wing groups which have always had this agenda (the Downtown Association, the SCPD, Santa Cruz Neighbors, etc.).  We need a broad coalition of artists, performers, unhoused folks, renters, workers, and bankster victims to fight back, or get picked off.
With the suffocating reduction of sidewalk art and performance space under the modified Downtown Ordinances that went into effect in Santa Cruz on October 24th, repression apologists are reassuring those facing a matrix of exclusion that all the need to do, if they want to play, table, display, or occupy more than 12 square feet (approx 3 1/2 X 3 1/2 feet) is to apply for a permit at the Parks and Recreation Department. This is camouflage and cover for a fundamental change in the downtown scene being orchestrated by those engaged in class and culture war to gentrify Pacific Avenue and use the myth of Poverty Crime and Clutter to trample Santa Cruz values & traditions of diversity & inclusion. Described below is what is actually offered in the "permit process".
In fact performers, other than those singly cramming themselves into 12 square feet downtown are now technically illegal. Those you see down there are either unaware of this fact or being temporarily ignored by the police (perhaps while protest heat subsides).   However the new laws are as clear as they are devastating.  It signifies the legal end to street performing as Santa Cruz as has traditionally known it.

 (These notes are based on the Parks & Recreation [P & R] office worker info on 11-7-13 as well as the City's Street Performance Downtown Santa Cruz website. If anyone has new info or corrections, please contact me).

 The only spots for which P & R will grant permits are
 (1) Compass Rose area near the post office;
 (2) Memorial Plaza near Jamba Juice;
 (3) Pacific and Cooper;
 (4) Pearl Alley;
 (5) Scribner Statue area.
 In other areas where performing for donation was traditional (say in front of New Leaf Market), it is simply banned with NO provision for any permit. This means from Laurel St. to Water St. there are a total of 4 spots to play with more than one performer, assuming the two aren't in a carnal embrace and playing harmonicas (i.e. have instruments like guitars that require at least some space).

 Permits can be filed only Monday – Thursday 8 AM – 4 PM at the P & R Office at 323 Church St 36 hours in advance of performance. So, if you want to perform with a fellow guitarist on a Monday, you'd better have applied on Wednesday or Thursday of the prior week. P & R worker Betsy assured me that two people playing could easily fit into 12 square feet—the maximum allowable space without a permit for someone with an open guitar case, cup, or other “display device”.. She must have been quite the rage at college phone booth stuffing events.

 Maximum time length allowed is 2 hours on Pacific and 3 hours in the alleys, one performance per day, and only between 11 AM- 10 PM. Additionally it's not clear when these rules will be altered given the new ordinances (and new bleak mentality to enable performance “regulation” by police, hosts, security guards, city staff, & merchants). Only one event per weekend. And only in the five spots indicated. Otherwise you are expected to squeeze your instrument, effects, companions and hynee's into 3 of those sidewalk squares.
 When Betsy checked, no one had applied for (and been granted) a permit subsequent to October 24, though 2 groups had applied for events in November before that date and been granted permits. Actually though I've only heard second hand accounts of smoking tickets being issued and none of sitting or "display device in wrong place" or "taking up too much space" citations, the number of performers down there has looked tome to be markedly less and those who are there are newbies who often don't know the rules. Today I saw two homeless people sprawled in "illegal" spots (but not blocking traffic, of course, just "illegal under the "merchant freeway" rules) and, I think, one performer--this was around 4 PM.
 Though the permits are free, if you're using a keyboard or any kind of “amplification” however minor, you've got to go through the SCPD and pay $33 with a much longer lead time. I've filed a Public Records Act request asking for specifics from them—which they're supposed to respond to in the next 10 days.
 I've also requested a list of the names and positions of the Hosts (the Hostile-aptaility squad) and the First Alarm thug patrols--no response yet.

 Contrary to what rule#7 at reads at the Street Performance Downtown Santa Cruz city website (“no commercial sales”), recent court decisions acknowledged by the City Attorney's office allow you to both sell and price tag your own original work (if written, audio, or video)--though this is not explicitly acknowledged (and not respected by some police).
 The published decision is Steven C. White v. City of Sparks. It can be found at []. There's a news story at [].
 The City's Street Performer website has also not been updated to indicate that a permit is required for any space more than 2' X 6' (not 4' X 6' as it now reads).
 What you don't read in the latest cheery Street Performing Downtown Santa Cruz hand-out being passed on by police and hosts (from their unmarked HQ at 607 Front St.) is the alarming (and absurd) clarification that the 12 square feet is only 3 “sidewalk squares”--difficult for one performer with an instrument and its case, impossible for more than one.

 MC 5.43.010 only limits "a display device for noncommercial use ON ANY PUBLIC SIDEWALK" [emphasis mine]-- so if the device itself doesn't sit on the sidewalk, but on you, it arguably isn't covered by the ordinance. So one alternative for performers is to attach a cup to your clothing and have no display device at all. Perhaps add a small sign “City law forbids me to place this cup on the sidewalk.”
 This has the additional benefit of arguably allowing you if you perform while standing to do it anywhere and everywhere and still get donations from those brave enough to approach. The 14' setbacks only apply to sitting, display devices placement, (and panhandling—which is explicitly defined differently than performing for donation).
 I include below copies of the Permit Application, the Permit "Rules" from the City website, the Santa Cruz Performers Guidelines flyer being pushed by the Hosts and cops, and a flier that outlines the information I've outlined above.

The site at has not been updated. So the sentence "The performance requires a space greater than 4 X 6 feet" has now been amended to read "greater than 2 X 6" or more accurately, 12 square feet.

(click on image for clarity)

(click on image for clarity)

"Host Assault Occurred in the Midst of a Peaceful Protest Against the Sidewalk Snatchers"
2013-10-08 by Robert Norse:
The incident portrayed on the video happened about an hour or so into the 2-hour protest in front of Forever Twenty-One (and then crossing Soquel to the New Leaf Market corner.
 It reportedly began (as also documented in the video) when the Host or Hospitalilty (or Hostile-apitality) worker told the two women that they were sitting illegally against Forever Twenty One (though not blocking traffic or causing any problem). One or both of the women responded by videoing the event, enraging the Host, who then engaged in behavior that seemed to me to be an aggressive assault. If any homeless person had done such a thing with a tourist, he would have been at least cited, and probably arrested. Not here, of course, this was Authority expressing rage that it was being Held Accountable through a videocaming. I was not present when all this happen but standing across the street.
 I was standing next to a didgeridoo player with a sign that read "On October 24th, this will be illegal" in front of New Leaf Market to dramatize the disappearance of performance space . That spot will become a "forbidden zone" for musicians, artists, vendors, political tablers, those who want to sit down on the sidewalk, or panhandlers on October 24th. That spot will be illegal because the entire area is within 14' of either the kiosk, the crosswalk, the trash can, or the building--prohibited under the new MC 5.43.020.
 The same will be true in that entire block from Soquel to Cathcart up and down Pacific Avenue. Take a walk downtown--measure out the area by using the squares imprinted in the sidewalk (approx 2' X 2'). Performance, vending, tabling, sitting, & art space does not exist there.
 The point in 2002, when an earlier version of this measure was rushed through was to criminalize panhandling and sitting in most places downtown (see The Alarm coverage for July, August, and September 2002 at ). Ironically, this was in the face of two public hearings at that time which found the major concerns were selective enforcement of the Downtown Ordinances (against youth, homeless-looking people, minorities, and activists) and police harassment (similarly).
 Angry shouts drew my attention to the scene across Soquel at the site of the protest tables where Lyrical Eye (Isaac Collins) was rapping and others were giving out flyers and collecting signatures. Then an angry woman in a Hospitality uniform crossed Soquel, followed by several women. The Hospitality worker was screaming at the women, refused to give her name, and stalked off. I described the situation later as an assault, due too the intensity of the rage and the close distance.
 Another Host (or "Hospitality" worker, as they style themselves) arrived--who I think was the screaming Host's superior. She refused to give her name nor the name of the screamer. Officer Albert, who arrived a few minutes later, along with other First Alarm security guards ultimately refused to take a citizen's arrest for this behavior. This seemed to me an obvious example of selective enforcement. As mentioned in the article, none of the Hosts were wearing nametags. Though it strains belief to suggest that their identity was unknown to Officer Albert, who works with them regularly, he refused to provide their names to the victims. Neither of the asssilant nor of her cover-for-the-employee boss.
 Otherwise the protest secured more signatures than either of the two prior protests downtown.
 A hopscotch matrix was chalked on the sidewalk with erasable chalk, which Officer Albert noted was "graffiti".
 Another chalked area marked the 12 X 12 square feet which would drive away all but the tiniest performers or apprentice contortionists.
 One donor left two sponge cakes.
 And more protests are in the offing. Come to the HUFF meeting Wednesday at 11 AM at the Sub Rosa (703 Pacific) to plot and plan.
 The attached flier is an updated version of one distributed.
Text of the Flier:
Save Our Santa Cruz Sidewalks from Stupid Laws
 On October 24th, new Downtown Ordinances will:
* FORBID PERFORMANCE, TABLING, ART DISPLAY, VENDING, SITTING, AND SPARECHANGING on 95% of downtown sidewalks & 100% of sidewalks near buildings elsewhere.
* FORCE ALL SUCH ACTIVITY TO THE CURB creating conflict with arriving motorists leaving their cars, unhealthy space for street performers, & a move to drive out vibrant street life.
* LIMIT IT to a handful of constricted 12 square feet spaces per block.
* LIMIT IT to 1 hour per day in any of the now very limited spots
* REQUIRE ADDITIONAL12' SEPARATION SPACES between these activities on the sidewalk
* REQUIRE DAYS OF LEAD TIME AND SPECIAL PERMITS for any exceptions to this rules.
* GIVE CONSERVATIVE STAFF & POLICE A VETO over who uses the public sidewalk.
* SET UP HUGE “WALK THROUGH ONLY” ZONES within 14' of buildings, street corners, intersections, kiosks, drinking fountains, public telephones, public benches, public trash containers,
 directory signs, sculptures or artwork, ATM-style machines, outside street cafes, vending carts, and fences.
* EMPOWER POLICE AND HOSTILE MERCHANTS to write $200-400 citations for traditionally innocent street presence, prescribing up to $1000 fine and 1 year in jail for 2nd “offense”.
* INCREASE VISIBLE POLICE SQUAD PRESENCE to pressure, cite, and/or arrest violators.
* SELECTIVELY TARGET MINORITIES, HOMELESS PEOPLE, & POOR FOLKS who don't “fit in” with the Downtown Association's vision of a proper “safe” Santa Cruz.
* BAN BOUNCING A BALL throwing a Frisbee, or hackeysacking downtown.
* BAN USING ERASIBLE CHALK whether for art or political messages.
* BAN SPREADING OUT A BLANKET on the sidewalk, traditional and necessary for the poor.
* BAN SITTING NEXT TO A BUILDING even if closed or vacant.
* FALSELY LABEL AS “SAFETY CONCERNS” traditional friendly Santa Cruz activity to empty the sidewalks of uses that don't involve buying in stores or restaurants.
* CREATE A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT for poor and homeless folks and deny them the rights others have to use the public space to assembly, rest, communicate, and enjoy.
* GIVE CRANKS A VETO ON STREET MUSIC by simply complaining.
* EMPOWER POLICE to expand enforcement—which originally created these laws.
* FALSELY SPREAD THE “PUBLIC SAFETY” MYTHOLOGY that Take Back Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Neighbors, the SCPD, the DTA, Needle-Free Zone, & other right-wing special interest groups are using to paint a scary picture downtown that encourages further repressive action.
* DRIVE AWAY ARTISTS & PERFORMERS leaving only the militant and the mercenary.

* E-mail City Council at citycouncil [at] .and demand these ordinances be reconsiderred for cost, effectiveness, impact, and unintended consequences by citizen committees with input from those impacted.
* Use your video phone to show the new harassment on the streets downtown. Post on Santa Cruz Indymedia & You-Tube, e.g. []. Send to HUFF: info [at]
* Spread opposition; Write local papers; Use Facebook & Twitter;. Ordinances become final on October 24th. Support Businesses who Support Public Space for all; Don't Support those who would privatize & sterilize.
* Post your own accounts of discrimination downtown. Document Host & Police Abuses. Coffee Roasting Co. & Starbucks recently banned large backpacks; New Leaf & Verve reportedly banned homeless-looking customers.
* Come to HUFF 11 AM every Wednesday at 703 Pacific to plan for the protests ahead.
* Witness and support other street performers when they face harassment from authorities.
* Get familiar with the Downtown Ordinances, often misquoted by police and hosts. Copies available on-line at [].
 Flier by Norse of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) 831-423-4833 [] 309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz 10-8-13
Text of the Petition:
PETITION to City Council - Restore Sidewalk Space For Everyone
 We, the undersigned, support open sidewalks. We oppose unnecessary restrictions. Sitting, performing, art display, political tabling, and peaceful panhandling are innocent and traditional practices. Severely restricting them destroys a friendly, creative, inclusive & welcoming climate downtown. Laws should encourage adequate room to pass & ban harassment against anyone, rich or poor. Sidewalk restrictions become worse on October 24th. They will reduce allowable space to less than 5% of the actual space. We wish to preserve the spontaneous, diverse, and colorful downtown. Restore voluntary street guidelines for performers, artists, vendors, and others. End the artificial space and time limitations. They require costly and unnecessary policing. They discourage tourists & community members from coming downtown and create a sterile scene.
 ANYONE who agrees can print name, sign, leave name and contact info.
 You do NOT have to be a city resident, registered voter, adult, or non-felon to sign.
 Please include contact information and skills to help with subsequent action such as a lawsuit, peaceful protest, boycotts, theatrical satire, letters to the media, etc.
 Petition by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) 831-423-4833 309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz 10-4-13
Text of the Flier:
 GET ready to resist
 Stop the Sidewalk-Snatching
 speak up WITH the poor: Mondays 5-7 PM Red Church Cedar & Lincoln Sts.
 speak up to city council: 5 PM Tuesday October 8th 809 Center St.
 speak up with the activists: 11 AM Every Wed 703 Pacific
 speak up to the hostile: 6-9 PM October 9th 315 Poplar St.
 speak up to the sympathetic: 7 PM October 10th 4-15 Walnut St.
 speak up on the street: Support Street Culture w/eyes, ears, & video!
 Sing, Sit, and Celebrate ! Save Santa Cruz Color and Street Life !
 Flier by Norse of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) 831-423-4833 10-7-13

"Coming Sunday to a Shrinking Santa Cruz Sidewalk Near You!" []: Funday Frolics - Sunday, October 06, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM. On the sidewalk in front of Forever Twenty One on Pacific Avenue near Soquel in downtown Santa Cruz...  Petition, paint, play, and perform to dissolve the disagreeable Downtown Ordinances in a healthy wind of happy laughter! These are the hippie-hostile laws that reduce street assembly space to the vanishing point turning Pacific Avenue into one big entranceway to the knickknack shops! More background: [].

 The "activist" event is the HUFF meeting at the Sub Rosa Cafe on Wednesdays.
 The "hostiles" are Mayor Bryant's "Public Safety" Citizens Task Force being held at Branciforte Middle School Cafeteria (instead of its usual Community Room of the Police Station location)--a "public comment" session for once.
 Agenda: []
 Staff Report: []
 The "sympathics" are the Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp Forum being held at the Santa Cruz High School. See [].

 This issue is also being discussed on another thread, Steve Pleich's Citizens for a Better Santa Cruz at [] I'm glad that Pleich is allowing this issue to be discussed there (though I've been banned "for life" for posting the Ken "Skindog" Collins video in violation of his wishes) and also that Brent Adams has posted the incident, though he notes that in his Sanctuary Camp of the future I'd only be allowed in on a "visitor's pass" or somesuch.
 What's instructive for me is the graphic demonstration of selective enforcement and official cover-up that goes on. Gina Ramirez was apparently the Host higher-up who refused to give her name or the offending Host's name. Ramirez breezes around Pacific Avenue with smile on her face and a walkie-talkie in her hand, ready to snitch on someone sitting next to a building, or sitting 13' from a bench, or not moving when told to do so. This is friendly fascism that has nothing to do with public health and safety and certainly nothing to do with hospitality. Yes it's "her job". But it's our job to expose, ridicule, and resist these abusive laws.

 These laws are designed to condition people to abandon their right to use the public spaces as they traditionally have in Santa Cruz in innocent ways. That this ways displease some merchants or conservative visitors, does not give them the right to impose their aesthetic and preferences with taser, baton, and ticketbook.
 Additionally enforcement of these merchant privilege laws inordinately impact homeless people. It's ironic that the "high crime rate" that Deputy Chief Clark darkly denounced among the homeless is a function of these phony citations (for sleeping, sitting, vending, being in the park after dark, etc.--no to mention, of course the toxic Drug War).

 It's most important that folks post more videos documenting the lengths police, hosts, and security thugs go to to command compliance with unreasonable, unconstitutional, and abusive ordinances. Also interesting, of course, is the cost of this kind of Stupid Law enforcement. Raising the issue sharply is one way to take it "out of the closet" and into the light. My thanks to the videographer(s) involved and here's hope there will be many more.
 Peaceful public disobedience documented by video and posted on line is an important way to show abusive and absurd the situation is.

 It's then quite understandable how a Host, saddled with an abusive and crazy job doesn't want to be videoed doing it. They'd prefer to have everyone pretend that it's okay-dokey to abandon 95% of the sidewalk under the pretext of a "public safety" or "trip and fall" absurdity. When they're confronted--even with simple questions or a refusal to move, or--Heavens to Betsy!--a protest, that's not the kind of swift compliance that Friendly Fascist Training had led them to expect. Folks are supposed to say "yes, sir; yes sir" and do whatever the authority tells them to do.
 I actually felt some sympathy for this woman, given a ridiculous and degrading job which naturally makes her the target of ridicule, resentment and hostility. But since these folks are the ones giving out the $200-300 citations to hapless poor people, they need to be called out for what they're doing.
 The real blame, of course, lies with city staff, the city attorney, the city manager, and the city council. But since there's no real public process for dealing with these insulated powers on most issues (and particularly on homeless issues) raising the issues publicly downtown seems to be one of the few ways for ordinary people without massive legal or political resources to oppose the creeping police state.

 Santa Cruz Weekly reporter G. Perry was also at the protest for much of the afternoon. Not sure if this report is from her, but there's a thread of comments on the Weekly website at [].
 I'll be playing audio of the protest and the encounter on my radio show 6-8 PM Thursday October 10th and it'll (hopefully) archive at . I also hope to have the victims of this assault on Sandra Leigh's Community TV show Issues soon.

 Incidentally, Wikipedia definition of "assault": "At common law, an assault is an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact." So, yes, putting someone in fear particularly from a position of authority--and anonymous authority at that--is a particularly serious form of assault. Especially when it's rubberstamped by higher-up's and police.

 I've requested a list of the names of all Hosts and; First Alarm Security guards hired to harass folks outside downtown, at the library, in the parks, around City Hall and have yet to receive a reply. I will eventually. And will post it. A list of SCPD officers with badge numbers and names can be fond at It's somewhat outdated, and I'm still waiting for the update from the SCPD.

"Santa Cruz "Hostility" worker account"
2013-10-08 by Tania []:
Santa Cruz "Hostility" worker account from Oct 6, 2013 during a street demonstration on Pacific Avenue. Includes a link to a 41 sec youtube video documenting the encounter.
On Sunday Oct 6, 2013 I witnessed a city worker in a "hospitality" role threatening a friend. We were peacefully demonstrating the new Santa Cruz city ordinances aimed at clearing street vendors, musicians, and homeless from Pacific Avenue. I tried to get the "Hospitality" host's name but was verbally assaulted instead. I then tried getting her name from a supervisor, who also refused to comply. It seems to me that people employed by the city (especially) in a "hospitality" role should:
 1. be hospitable
 2. be accountable for their behavior
Refusing to give their identity is unacceptable. How am I to now have recourse for the assault? At least I have the video [].
But should all citizens carry video cameras around to protect themselves? It angers me to think that my tax dollars pay for this woman's salary. I have indirectly paid for this woman's harassment, yet have no recourse.
How would a police officer be reprimanded in this situation? If the hospitality workers went through the same training as a police officer, I question if this woman would have been able to complete the courses as it seems one would need more discipline. In any case, I believe it is clear this employee is in the wrong role.
My transcript of the video:
Worker: ... (unintelligible) get in my face and try to record me (unintelligible) record all this. Make sure you got this (down on?) tape. You are fucking with the wrong person, I'll tell you that right now. (turns and walks away)
Male - someone else: I didn't catch all that
(Becky and I running to catch up to worker)
Me: Now hold on, hold up!
Becky: Is that what you said? You said you were fucking with the wrong person?
Me: I didn't get your name! What is your name? Excuse me!
Worker: (unintelligible) get (out???) (slaps at me)
Becky: You think I have something against you? You approached me ma'am. I didn't approach you. You approached me.
Becky: You should quit lady. You're in the wrong profession.

"Santa Cruz Hostility from a city "Hospitality" Host" 
2013-10-06 upload to "" []:
If anyone knows the name of this city employee please let me know. I want to file a complaint but need her name. Any suggestions for actions I can take to escalate this issue?   
Background: We were peacefully demonstrating that the new Santa Cruz city ordinances would no longer allow people to sit on the sidewalk. The woman on the ground was holding a sign that said "this will be illegal Oct. 24th" and was harassed by the Santa Cruz "Hospitality" host. I don't think the behavior exhibited by this city employee is justified under any circumstance and she needs to be held accountable.
Comment from Becky Johnson: This host first approached me while I was hopscotching & told me I could be cited for "graffiti". (Yes, SIDEWALK CHALK on a SIDEWALK!) She walked off & stood about 30ft away & it looked like she was calling for backup. I approached her w my tape recorder on in plain sight & asked if there'd been a complaint. She ignored my question but got upset that I was tape-recording her response. Later she verbally assaulted me saying "You've fucked w the wrong person!" which I took as a threat.
Comment from JohnnyThund3r: First, none of us were begging. 2nd, I'm not homeless. We were protesting the banishment of artists,craftsmen,&musicians on Sept 24th when the new law goes into effect. This host (w no name badge) is working in uniform for the Downtown Mgmt. Corp. w our permission. No one should behave this way under color of law. She should be fired.

"The Latest Street Menace--Chess"
2013-09-30 NOTES BY NORSE:  The suppression of sidewalk chess in San Francisco is a mirror example of what is being done in Santa Cruz--removal by edict of public assembly on the sidewalks though the behavior is innocent (indeed positive), traditional, and serves not only "homeless" people but the community as well.  The only people complaining (and its not clear whether any real presentation of complaints versus commendations has been made) are some merchants.
Ditto with Santa Cruz.   Performers, vendors, artists, political tablers--indeed anyone who wants to sit down on the broad Santa Cruz sidewalks (and don't even  mention anyone who wants to peaceful, even silently sparechange)--already face an absurdly contracted space, high fines for sitting outside the designated areas, and huge fines for doing so (not to mention the threat of ail for repeated offenses).   The aggressors here are the same group of self-entitled gentrification maestros and economically-anxious merchants who are attempting to sanitize business districts throughout the country. 
Liberal on the outside, homeless-ophobic and streetlife-hostile underneath, places like New Leaf Market, Coffee Roasting Company, Verve--to mention only a few--are banning backpacks and homeless-looking people inside and (in New Leaf's case) supporting their removal even from the public sidewalks outside.  Streetlife is considered to be a "draw" or--in the current crypto-fascist language--"an enabling" or "welcoming" aspect to the sidewalk and so needs to be either regimented or removed entirely.  Ironically this "clean up" campaign threatens the vibrancy and color that actually draws tourists to the overpriced Pacific Avenue with its skyrocketing rents & knickknack shops. 
Simply wailing the business blues isn't enough in Santa Cruz (and SF), so merchants, cops, cranky conservatives, and paranoid residents hook up to generate the mythical "Public Safety" menace.  In Santa Cruz this takes the virulent and retrograde Drug War shape with politically resurgent groups like Take Back Santa Cruz, the Green Team, and the new Needle-Free Zone fear-mongers beating the drums for attacks on anyone who looks homeless (See ).  Deny them services; deny them space; criminalize them with absurd laws, and then use that criminal status to drive them away.
In Santa Cruz it will also become difficult if not impossible to play chess on the sidewalk without a permit.  Try and do it in 12 square feet and see.   Protests continue against these spirit-suppressing laws next Sunday (See and related articles at ).

"Festival of Fun Draws More Police Surveillance" 
2013-09-29 by Robert Norse of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) [831-423-4833] [], posted to []
An hour and a half protest against the latest turn of the screw choking off street performers, artists, vendors, and tablers drew singers, poets, chalkers, a cop, and even a long-winded critic. Activists have put out a flyer announcing a second protest next Sunday October 6th.
Saturday night some of us came together for the first street protest in front of Forever Twenty-One last night since the passage of the Downtown Ordinances on September 24th. Activists bravenly chalking their outrage on the sidewalk and informed passersby of the new shrunken space street performers will be allowed.
 For those who know the downtown, that will be three of the 2' X 2' squares on Pacific Avenue within which a performer (or tabler or vendor or artist) will be expected to confine instrument, body, chair, table, and accompanists). Since this is clearly impossible in many cases, it will mean that to be legal you need to get a special permit.
 To do this requires 3 days to a week notice, is reportedly free, but may only be permissibble in a few spots downtown (though it wasn't clear from my conversations with the Parks and Rec Department last week whether the special permits were limited to that area). Obviously arriving to play spontaneously (if you wish to have a guitar case or other "display device" out--will be a thing of the past. Unless folks ignore this law and continue their traditional practices.l Having any "amplified sound" whatsoever supposedly now requires going through the SCPD and takes 2 weeks, or such was the info from P and R.
 The new rules also require 12' distances between those those busqueing, tabling, displaying artwork, or vending on the sidewalk as well as none of this activity at all within 14' of any building, any change-dispersing machine, any fence, any bench, any drinking fountain, any public telephone, any public bench, any public trash can, any information or directory sign, any sculpture, any “no panhandler” meters, any vending cart, any sidewalk cafe, any street corner, any intersection, or any kiosk. Sitting or sparechanging is also restricted to those tiny patches of ground. Any cup, cap, or guitar case is defined as a “display device”.
 The Saturday night protest focused on the absurdities of the new laws as well as older ones that ban bouncing or throwing a ball downtown, hackeysacking, using a squirt gun, or chalking on the sidewalk with erasable chalk. Sports fans brought a basketball and a small football. Bubble-blowing--which is permitted--was also provided as a legal interlude. Hopscotch enthusiasts brought sidewalk chalk. A "Box of Crime" was displayed and offered to the police as a form of "crime control".
 Office Headley arrived with camera to stand with arms folded taking occasional snapshots of those giving out flyers of the chalkked sidewalk delineating the small "permitted" zones that go into effect on October 24th. When asked if he were there on complaint or to give out citations, he smiled broadly and said nothing. Such picture taking has been used in the past to later cite peaceful activists like Wes Modes who was dragged into a full-blown trial for walking in the parade along with hundreds and hundreds on New Year's Eve 2010 (See ).
 On my radio show today, I played some of the audio of the protest, which included poetic performance by Lyrical Eye (Isaac Collins), speeches by Becky Johnson, and others, and spirited conversations with surprised locals, baffled tourists, and irate critics (though fewer of those). Most passed by swiftly en route to their Saturday evening activities.
 I did get wind of larger protests being planned by more "respectable" folks--and some of these may be discussed at the next HUFF meeting (Wednesday 11 AM Sub Rosa Cafe 703 Pacific Ave.).
 I was impressed with the determination to restore First Amendment rights downtown--some activists began to chalk, though the area was under surveillance and they might later well be subject to fines of hundreds of dollars. Others sat on the sidewalk in "illegal" locations.
 Another Sunday "Funday Frolics" protest has been announced for next Sunday afternoon.

The following was issued as a flyer during the 2013-09-28 Funday Frolics.
"Shafting Non-Shoppers: Expanding the Destructive Downtown Ordinances / Merchant Monopolization of Public Spaces Marches On"
2013-09-14 by Robert Norse of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) [831-423-4833] [], posted to []:
A protest will also be held 9-22 at 1:30 PM in front of "Forever Twenty-One" on Pacific Avenue near Soquel Ave. []
In a disguised attack on the entire non-commercial street scene, City Council voted to restrict still further the very limited public space currently allowed the community downtown. Under the guise of health concerns, reducing congestion, and preventing a "trip-and-fall" hazard (none of which is documented), the reactionary new laws crowd street performers, vendors, homeless people, tablers, local residents, & tourists together & sterilize 95% of the sidewalk as “forbidden zones” for resting, vending, or performing.
This is a merchant/right-wing attack on the street counter-culture. It has nothing to do with “bad behavior.” It's about “bigot aesthetics”--clearing away visible poverty, traditional Santa Cruz diversity, and political activists. Council staff showed no input from those impacted (other than merchants) and had no info on costs or stats documenting problems.

 The new law changes:
 +++ Extends the Smoking Ban to the side streets one block in either direction from Pacific Avenue, including all alleys & side streets and to to all surface parking lots in downtown between Laurel Street and Water St. perhaps private parking lots as well (Julie Hendee, one of the authors of the law wasn't sure!).
 +++ Requires street artists, street vendors, panhandlers, and political activists to provide “freestanding” display devices such as tables or boxes on which to hoist above the sidewalk anything with them. This bans tarps & blankets now used to display jewelry, artwork, political fliers and likely laying objects directly on the sidewalk. This includes panhandler's cups and caps as well as street performers' guitar cases and change bowls.
 +++ Reduces the total display device space to 16 sq ft now to include all the person's personal possessions;
 +++ Requires a 12' distance between display devices, isolating community members.
 +++ Reduces available space 4/5 to include 95% of the sidewalk by expanding the “forbidden zones” to 14' from buildings, street corners, intersections, kiosks, drinking fountains, public telephones, public benches, public trash compactors, information/directory signs, sculptures or artwork, ATM-style machines, outside street cafes, vending carts, and fences. This bans sitting on any sidewalk that is narrower than 14' (stops use of all sidewalks in other business & beachfront districts).
 +++ Defines “display devices” as any kind of container "capable of being used for holding...tangible things"—which may include a backpack or sleeping bag, making likely its use against homeless people.

 When added to the frequent merchant expansion of their displays onto the sidewalk in front of their shops this exclusion of non-commercial activity will be nearly all-embracing. This, of course, suits those whose objective is to drive away the once-vibrant street scene in Santa Cruz and 'Capitola-ize” the Avenue.
 The resulting congestion will have people competing for the public spaces (when there is actually room for all). It will severely crowd not just those using display devices, but others trying to sit down in the few remaining spots available whether these be elderly residents, homeless locals, visiting travelers, UCSC students, or naive tourists (who will, of course be selectively ignored or courteously directed to pay-cafes). And either drive such people away or produce a hostile response and more conflict downtown.

 +++ Use your video phone to show authorities harassing the public on the streets downtown. Post on You-Tube and . Send them to HUFF (rnorse3 [at] ).
 +++ E-mail City Council at citycouncil [at] .and demand these ordinances be reviewed for cost, effectiveness, impact, and unintended consequences by citizen committees and with public input.
 +++ Spread opposition; Write local papers; Use Facebook & Twitter;. Ordinances become final a month after a 2nd vote in two weeks (October 24) Support businesses who oppose, publicize those who don't.
 +++ Post your own accounts of discrimination downtown. The Coffee Roasting Company & Starbucks recently banned large backpacks; CruzioWorks refuses 24-hour service to Dan Madison for his homeless appearance.
 +++ Come to City Council 3 PM September 24th to oppose the 2nd Vote on these laws!

"Santa Cruz Street Performers Crushed In Under New Ordinances; Preliminary Update Focusing on the Impact on Street Performers"

2013-09-11 by Robert Norse []
Street performers will be severely impacted.
 Their allowable performance area will be reduced from the current standard--having an 18 sq ft table and being able to have other items outside that area--to 16 sq ft and having to have all their personal possessions (including musical instrument cases) inside that area.
 They will be required to provide stand-up tables or boxes on which to perch their stuff (actually creating more of a trip-and-fall hazard--one of the laughable undocumented excuses used to sugarcoat this attack on the street scene). In effect they'll be required to store their personal goods inside these devices
 How many poor people can actually afford to purchase such devices? How many homeless people can store them at night?.
 They will be required to be 12' away from each other—limiting still further the total available space (under the second phony pretext—also asserted without proof or documentation--that there were "conflicts").
 But most important, the 10' "forbidden zones" have been increased to 14'--something specifically rejected by extensive hearings in 2002 and 2003 when several committees and the City Council itself in repeated sessions debated the issue. Street performers then vocally and accurately pointed out that the expanded zones (which were at that time designed to corral and deter homeless and poor people panhandling and sitting) would severely impact the performers. The Downtown Commission as well as a Joint Council-Commission Task Force recommended and got the Council to limit the damage to 10'.
 This new expansion "no man's land" (the forbidden zones bans on tabling, sitting, sparechanging, vending, etc. essentially only consumer access to stores) cuts available performance space down to about 1/5th of what it was.
 How so? Rough estimates in 2002 were that the sitting and panhandling ban (which were increased from 6' to 14') eliminated 95% of the sidewalk for "legal behavior". The 10' forbidden zones finally settled on after extensive research and public debate eliminated 75% of the sidewalk for "display devices". Street performers will now be in the same position as sitters and sparechangers have been for the last decade—legal on only 5% of the street (as distinguished from the previous 25% (and that was a generous assessment).
 Since then, additional forbidden zone creators like "public art", directory signs, trash compactors, and other items have been added to the landscape. Additional bike racks have been put in creating less space for traditional Santa Cruz street activity.
 The new ordinance now proclaims that any street musician who performs with a cup or open guitar case (a "display device", to quote the ordinance, "anything capable of holding tangible things") will be illegal within 14' of a forbidden zone indicator.
 The forbidden zones extend within 14' of:
* buildings,
* street corners,
* intersections,
* kiosks,
* drinking fountains,
* public telephones,
* public benches,
* public trash compactors,
* information/directory signs,
* sculptures or artwork,
* ATM-style machines,
* outside street cafes,
* vending carts,
* and fences.
 (See under MC 5.43.020).
 The Council's claim that it wants to "avoid confusion" and "make things consistent" disguises the fact that this kind of consistency punitively sucks up the public space. Comments by City Council members (Robinson, Comstock, Mathews, Terrazas) seemed to indicate "aesthetics" (i.e. Get rid of the indications of visible poverty) and merchant sensibilities (more space for us and our customers) were the major indicators.
 No concrete evidence of "trip and fall", congestion, ongoing conflict problem, or any other real public safety concern was presented.
 But, of course, this ties in nicely with the City's redefinition of "Public Safety" as "Homeless Removal".
 Real public safety concerns might be aesthetically and economically "desirable" alcohol abusers lured by the city's nightlife, but hey--they pay good money for their raucous behaviors and "contribute to the economy of the city".
 The real issue is how to restore and reclaim the public spaces that the Downtown Association and Take Back Santa Cruz--operating through the City Council--have stolen...again. Perhaps a kazoo brigade? Perhaps chairs distributed to homeless people to sit (sitting in a chair anywhere on Pacific Ave sidewalks is legal if you're not blocking the sidewalk)? Perhaps link-ups with Palo Alto attorneys who have already committed themselves to challenging anti-homeless laws there?
 The law comes up for a second reading on September 24th.
 I'll be hoping to write more about this infuriating situation if I can find the steam.