According to wikipedia.org déjà vu is “the experience of feeling that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously.”
I am a resident of Oakland, but an avid reader of the Daily Planet. I read Judith Scherr’s article about Mayor Tom Bates “Public Commons for Everyone” initiative and experienced an eerie sense of déjà vu. After having lived through and witnessed a set of similar ordinances passed by the Santa Cruz City Council in the 1990’s, I never thought another city would adopt such draconian measures in an effort to push particular groups of people from a city.
In the 1990s Santa Cruz City Council passed several ordinances designed to shape the community to remove a particular population. It was disguised as an attempt to make the people safer. The real reason behind this design was to support the Downtown Business Association of Santa Cruz located on the Pacific Garden Mall in downtown. Such ordinances as “No Display Devices” in public places were written. This meant that anyone who wanted to set up a table or rack, chair, box or display would be in violation of a city ordinance; where “Display Devices” were allowed, people could not remain in the same space for more than one hour.
They also passed a “No Aggressive Solicitation” ordinance, which basically boiled down to a “No Panhandling” rule. This meant that a verbal (or non-verbal) request, such as a sign, seeking donations of food, money, cigarettes or any item of value would subject a person to a fine and/or arrest. In addition, any “Aggressive Solicitation” done before or after sunset would be in violation of the ordinance.
In Santa Cruz, you cannot sit or lie down on a public sidewalk or sidewalk curb in designated city zones; this was harshly enforced especially on the Pacific Garden Mall which is where a great deal of income for the city is generated. In some designated city zones, you cannot sit within 14 feet of an entry or exit to a building, a building window, a drinking fountain or public phone, an open air cafe and you cannot sit or lie down within 50 feet of an ATM machine.
If you walk, sit upon or stand on any public monument, decorative fountain, bike rack, trash receptacle, fire hydrant, or street tree planter, you would be in violation and subject to punishment. It gets better. People in designated areas of Santa Cruz cannot place backpacks, boxes, luggage, or bikes on public streets, sidewalks roadways, pedestrian ways or bike paths in the city. Finally, the “No-Camping” ordinance was an out and out push to force the homeless population out of the city. There is no sleeping between the hours of 11:00 PM and 8:30 AM outdoors with or without bedding, tent or hammock, no sleeping is allowed in a car, bus, van, or on or in any structure not intended for human occupancy. All of these ordinances can be found at www.huffsantacruz.org.
Folks, this “Public Commons for Everyone” is a slippery slope. I witnessed it in Santa Cruz and it created a huge rift between the city population and law enforcement, between the city population and city council and between the different types of people living in Santa Cruz. It is not good for the city of Berkeley to begin looking at ways to further disenfranchise an already dispossessed population. And, in some cases, the people that this will affect could be any of us.
Yes, these two cities have other things in common. Santa Cruz and Berkeley are both university towns; they both have wealth. A great deal of income in both places is generated by education and tourism. Another commonality of both cities is their long histories of social activism. The one thing that is different are the demographics are in the two cities; the census reported in the year 2000 that Santa Cruz had a population of approximately 55,000 and Berkeley had 102,000. People have historically been drawn to Berkeley and Santa Cruz for the beauty, the education and the open attitudes. People could find comfort in being themselves in Berkeley or Santa Cruz.
It stupefies me to hear that Berkeley is planning to follow in the footsteps of another historically great place to live; places that allowed for a variety of opinions and expressions to flourish, have now become a place where homelessness and mental illness are criminalized, ignored and pushed aside. Déjà vu. I think I have been here before.
Tracie de Angelis Salim is a former Santa Cruz resident.