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New City Hall Restrictions Ambiguous and in Need of Clarity
by Steve Pleich
Wednesday May 17th, 2017 12:45 PM
Questions About Legality Remain Unanswered

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The following is the opinion of the writer and is not to be taken as a statement issued by either the Freedom Sleepers or the Survival Sleepers with whom this writer is in solidarity.

Beginning in July, 2015, the Freedom Sleepers (Sleepers) have conducted a Constitutionally protected community sleepout in and around the Santa Cruz City Hall every Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. The upcoming sleepout and protest will be the 97th and it is not only our community’s longest running, continuing protest, but has inspired members of our houseless community now known as the Survival Sleepers to begin nightly sleepouts.

By and large, interactions with the First Alarm employees who patrol the City Hall grounds have been amicable, if at times uneven. Many of the security guards with whom the Sleepers have spoken and interacted during the last almost two (2) years have evidenced a respect for the right of the Sleepers to peaceably assemble and address their grievances to local elected officials through the very visible presence at City Hall. Now, that situation has changed.

Within the past few days, the City of Santa Cruz, under the direction of its City Manager, has not only reduced the hours of access to City Hall grounds but has extended these restrictions to the adjacent Central Branch Library under the legal theory that the Library is part of the City Hall “campus”. City Park Rangers, with whom the security personnel and the Sleepers interact with on an almost daily basis, have informed Sleepers that these restrictions have been imposed under the authority of a “new municipal code” which, again presumably, gives them the force of local law. This writer believes that the new restrictions are ultra vires in that they do not flow from an ordinance change and are simply a new interpretation of existing law created by unfettered fiat of the City Manager’s Office. This writer also believes that the creation of any such “new” ordinance resides within the sole purview of the elected City Council's law making mandate and process of is under no circumstances ceded a non-elected official such as the City Manager. There can be no doubt that both the understanding and enforcement of the new restrictions are murky at best, and wholly mistaken yet rigidly enforced heedless of their legality at worst.

Additionally, there seems to be little real authority for the extension of the City Hall "campus" to the adjacent Central Library grounds or other public spaces within city limits. It has been suggested that the area around the City Hall grounds will be the subject of rezoning. Again, that authority is vested in the City Zoning Commission which, at the very least, would be charged with rendering an advisory opinion to council.

This writer is asking local civil liberties and social justice organizations to call upon City Council to issue a moratorium on the imposition of the new restrictions on public spaces pending a full review and determination by the City Council.