Photo courtesy of Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz Sentinel December 8, 2011
by Becky Johnson
Santa Cruz, Ca. -- The last two days of the Occupy Santa Cruz encampment in San Lorenzo Park were marked by confusion, high tempers, and a flurry of activity as bike carts and grim-faced people carried gear, bags, and even furniture out of the park. Some vowed they weren't going anywhere, and 31 tents still remained after the 5PM deadline on December 7th.
The photo of Vice-Chief Steve Clark smirking from behind the glass of the courthouse as he counted down the minutes to coordinating the activities between his force and Scotts Valley Police, Capitola Police, Watsonville Police, Santa Cruz County Sheriff's, State Park Rangers and UCSC police along with First Alarm security agents to crush the camp belied the cruel pleasure he took as he waited for the police onslaught which would ruin the homes of homeless people and curtail their dissent.
If what the sheriffs and police are doing is so lawful, upright, and reasonable, why do they come like a thief in the night to steal tents, bedding, and to cite people for sleeping? Does their naked use of brutal police power not make a good visual for the citizenry?
Don Lane, and the Santa Cruz City Council all deserve defamation for the entire way they handled this. The FIRST thing they did was to meet in secret, put an item on their closed litigation session agenda as an "emergency" item, and vote to spend tens of thousands of dollars by assigning City Attorney John Barisone (who IS one of the 1%) with the task of filing an injunction against the camp in court---a place where they have had unprecedented success in the past. But then Occupy Santa Cruz filed a motion to move consideration of the injunction to Federal Court.
No problem. Step in Czarina of Parks & Rec, Dannettee Shoemaker. SHE could file an administrative order to remove "a public nuisance" pre-empting the now-Federal injunction. Except, that under Chapter 4.16 of the Santa Cruz Municipal Code, she needed to first file a notice of abatement, give the parties time to either respond or abate the nuisance, and, also include sections of the code which are being violated. Also required under the City's nuisance abatement code, is to give notice of how the order can be appealed. She did none of these.
Instead, she used the summary portion of the code. Such code is for hazards which, according to the written instructions on use of this "hurry up" form of hazard removal, require that "an imminent threat to life" would exist if the nuisance were allowed to continue unabated.
Except that Dannettee issued the order on November 30th but didn't bother to deliver the first notice until the evening of December 4th. If the threat was so "imminent" why did she take so much time?
When Occupy Santa Cruz again met the City in court (this time in the chambers of Judge Timothy Volkmann) all of these arguments were made. But Volkmann, without really explaining why, rubberstamped Shoemaker's order.
The encampment lasted each night from October 8th until December 7th. At its height, 109 tents were pitched there and on County property. An average of 200 people found shelter, safety, food, medical help, and community there, many who were unhoused. Three porto-potties were ultimately utilized representing 75 people each.
Assuming 2 people per tent, OSC provided an estimated 200 people with shelter for 61 nights or 12,200 shelter-nights in social-service-speak. That's more than the Homeless Services Center will provide at the National Guard Armory all this winter.
Mayor Ryan Coonerty never fails to disappoint. His last act as Mayor was to preside over a massive and costly police operation to crush both dissent and the encampment. He is now responsible for displacing up to 225 people into the bushes, beneath bridges, and behind dumpsters in the downtown area. His police force have seized tents, bedding, food, medicine, personal possessions, along with cooking utensils, tools, electronic equipment, musical instruments, and clothing. Basically anything they couldn't physically carry away was left behind to be ridiculed by Santa Cruz Polices spokesperson, Zach Friend as "Eight tons of garbage."
In the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Mayor Ryan Coonerty said "We just can't have this continued impact on parks, especially when every other group abides by the restrictions on park use. We've tried to balance their protest with the impacts to the park, but now the impacts to the park are significant enough that they need to find another form of protest."
Of course "every other group" is the AIDS BIKE-A-THON which pays the City a large amount of money to use one of our parks for two days, tents a-plenty. THEY also provide porto-potties for the campers. For a group of homeless people to get the permits required would be prohibitively expensive by design. Neither Coonerty nor any other member of the Santa Cruz City Council want a legal campground for homeless people to open anywhere within the City limits.
So the City has bypassed its own legal process to crush a campground which housed 200 people, and seized tents, sleeping bags, and warm clothing from a bunch of homeless people claiming that if they DIDN'T do this, "an imminent threat to life" would exist. When you deprive homeless people of shelter and blankets, are you not CREATING an "imminent threat to life" for those people? I guess we can be thankful they didn't use tear gas and concussion grenades.