At a Santa Cruz City Council meeting on March 14, Mayor Fred Keely presented a surprise proposal against homeless residents who beg in traffic jams (watch the video below). Keely’s proposal was nowhere on the meeting’s agenda package, he spontaneously inserted it into an unrelated vote on item #15, which was about improving bike safety and removing car parks on Laurel Street. Keely worded the proposal as follows: “Include an additional directive that the city manager will present at the budget hearing with a plan to install safety devices to prohibit staying on the traffic islands or median strips at the city’s ten busiest intersections.” Keely did not make any specific reference to the act of begging or to the housing status of the persons to whom his proposal was to be subject, but several government officials responded that they understood the purpose of the proposal. Hearings on the city budget are due to begin in May.
Since Mayor Keely introduced the proposal after a public comment period on an irrelevant agenda item, the public did not get a chance to comment on it. Keely gave only two very brief explanations as to why he submitted the proposal and did not provide any road safety data.
“People essentially opening a store in an inner city are a danger to this person, to the general public, to other people who are trying to get through the intersection, to motorists and to everyone else,” Keely said, which was his most extensive explanation. Problems. movement.
Several government officials responded.
“I think the direction is right,” City Attorney Tony Condotti chimed in, “but we’ll need to do some legal analysis of possible problems with the First Amendment with what essentially amounts to […] a ban on loitering on the median strips.
Public works director Nathan Nguyen said the “river stone” could be installed on median lanes, something the city has been doing for more than a decade at many of its busiest intersections. Kili quickly cut him off. “I don’t think it works well,” the mayor said.
“We understand the spirit of the request, so we can bring back some options later when we get through the budget hearings,” City Manager Huffaker then said.
“I’m just trying to figure out how it relates to this subject,” council member Sonia Brunner told Keely.
The Mayor’s unexpected proposal seemed to embarrass Councilman Brunner, but it’s unlikely to go against his spirit. In her first year in office in 2021, Brunner was instrumental in passing two anti-homelessness ordinances criminalizing homeless residents: the Camping and Standards Ordinance (CSSO) and the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO). Both ordinances created new petty offenses that for the most part apply only to the homeless.
“It’s about safety on our roads and the desire to reduce conflict between vehicles and people not in vehicles,” Keely responded to council member Brunner’s comment.
“I understand your intent, but I was trying to understand the connection to this subject,” Brunner said.
It was at this point in the meeting that City Attorney Condotti intervened to stop further discussion of Keely’s petition. “I think this discussion needs to be limited because this item is not on your agenda,” Condotti said.
Keely’s proposal was passed unanimously by the city council. In the summary of the meeting, the wording of the proposal was written as follows: “Instruct the city manager to return to the budget hearings with a plan to install safety devices that prohibit loitering on the islands or middle sections at the ten busiest intersections in the city.”
In addition to placing river stones on median lanes to prevent panhandling, on May 28, 2013, the Santa Cruz City Council passed a stay ban on median lanes and roundabouts. None of the government officials commenting on Keely’s proposal mentioned the ruling.
Chapter 10.36.040 of the city code, entitled “Stay at medians and roundabouts”, defines the term “remain” as meaning “use of medians or roundabouts for a purpose other than helping to cross the street, including the purposes of disorderly conduct, extortion of money, inducement to prostitution, drinking alcohol or other activities not related to crossing the street.
Any person violating the ordinance can be held administratively liable for remaining in the lane if they are held liable for doing so twice within a six-month period.
The ordinance passed and the city provided very little safety data. The staff report of the May 28, 2013 meeting only states the following: “Although there have been few cases in history of motorists hitting people at median or roundabouts, in 2012 there were 8 cases where drivers hit traffic signs at median and other stripes. places in the city. This demonstrates the danger posed by people remaining at median lanes (of all types) and roundabouts.”
In comments made to the city council in May 2013, local homeless advocate Robert North questioned the validity of staff’s public safety claims.
“As is typical of those who try to restrict public spaces and criminalize the presence of the homeless without talking about it, the staff report (and the complaint against the homeless by the Committee of Public Safety) uses the pretext “public safety” without any statistical documentation.” Norse wrote. .
“No statistics pointing to any accidents involving people, no car accidents – just some traffic signs hit (which has nothing to do with people on the median – which can actually make drivers be more careful)”, North added.
“To make it illegal to ask for help with signs is, of course, a gross violation of the First Amendment, as well as a heartless slap in the face to those in need. This is also a violation of elementary morality, as well as a sign of desperation and determination of NIMBY fanatics to clear the streets of obviously poor people who are destroying the idea of \u200b\u200bhealthy happy neighborhoods, ”concluded Robert North.