During last nights Policy and Services Committee meeting Council members Liz Kniss, Larry Klein and city manager James Keene have resurrected the segregated south by officially recommending that the City of Palo Alto make it illegal for homeless people to possess and or own a vehicle.
“Injustice fights with two weapons, force and fraud.. A common form of injustice is chicanery, that is, an over-subtle, in fact a fraudulent construction of the law.” Cicero – On Moral Duties
“The law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Thomas Jefferson
The Vehicle Habitation Ordinance last night was first brought to City Council almost two years ago but shelved after dozens of residents stated that an ordinance was not necessary and was a cruel and merit-less tactic to push the homeless out of Palo Alto into neighboring communities.
In response the City created a “Working Group” to discuss alternatives to an ordinance. Contrary to Curtis Williams’ assertion last night that only one alternative was presented during the Working Group’s meetings, there were several other options placed on the table that he, the City Attorney and Police Chief have refused to consider or bring to City Council’s attention.
Interestingly most of the discussion during the P&S meeting revolved around the problems associated with the homeless in general and not about the use of vehicles by the homeless, “Vehicle Dwellers.”
At one point city staff person Minka Van der Zwaag was referring to problems in public showers and bathrooms. What does a shower inside a building have to do with a person placing his belongings in his vehicle and sleeping there at night?
It became apparent that city staff was mixing apples with oranges to fictionalize a mountain of a problem when there is less than a mole-hill.
Police chief Dennis Burns presented some statistics regarding calls for service specifically related to Vehicle Dwellers isolated to one location in town, Cubberley Center, where as many as 30 homeless sleep at night in addition to 5 to 10 vehicle dwellers.
Chief Burns stated that there were 10 calls for service in 2010, 18 calls for service in 2011, 39 calls for service in 2012 and 9 calls for service for the first four months of 2013.
Chief Burns could not present the number of calls for service at Lytton Plaza or outside the local bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants for those same years which is assumed to be well over 300. The problems at some of these locations are so pervasive that police officers actually station themselves there for hours on end. I wonder how much the city spends each year on its officers to hang out in front of “The Patio” sports bar and Lytton Plaza?
Is there any reason why the city cannot proactively patrol Cubberley Center in order to head off any problems with the homeless and or Vehicle Dwellers?
Chief Burns neglected to identify the nature of the calls at Cubberley and how many different people they are attributed to or the outcome of those calls. For instance, was a call for service over a Vehicle Dweller urinating in public or just being there in his/her vehicle? Was it a legitimate complaint or one fabricated out of a paranoid prejudice against Vehicle Dwellers?
Minka Van der Zwaag presented a case in how the current laws work when enforced by describing how one vehicle dweller was storing belongings in the public parking lot which resulted in that person removing the debris after complaints were made.
Councilman Klein justified his support for an ordinance by relying on the Chief’s unsubstantiated statistics of an increase in Vehicle Dwellers. What does that have to do with behavior? In justifying the ordinance based upon the number of Vehicle Dwellers living in Palo Alto Klein empirically reveals that the ordinance is not about disrespectful or unlawful behavior but based upon the economic color of Vehicle Dwellers’ skin.
Perhaps it is Klein who needs medication and not the homeless. Heart drug, propranolol, may curb subconscious racism:
Council member Kniss asserted over and over that this ordinance does not criminalize the homeless or vehicle dwellers, but is just a tool for the PAPD to deal with those few Vehicle Dwellers who are causing problems and that the ordinance would only be used on a complaint basis.
The problem with this assertion is that Kniss, City Attorney Molly Stump, City Manager James Keene and Police Chief Dennis Burns have not identified what a legitimate complaint is.
Based upon the current ordinance: John Doe who lives on the 100 block of Addison calls the police to report a person sleeping in his vehicle; the police show up and arrest the person because the person is homeless and has no permanent address and has been contacted by the police before for refusing to leave Palo Alto or avail himself of homeless services despite the fact that this person drives a taxi-cab full time.
This Vehicle Dweller is not violating any nuisance laws, his only offense is his existence in Palo Alto in a vehicle.
Council Member Liz Kniss, Police Chief Dennis Burns, City Attorney Molly Stump and City Manager James Keene state that the ordinance is necessary to punish Vehicle Dwellers for violating current laws such as urinating in public, littering, disturbing the peace, etc… because when Vehicle Dwellers violate current laws the police are never around to catch them in the act.
If that is the true motivation behind the ordinance, then Larry Klein, Liz Kniss, Dennis Burns, Molly Stump and James Keene need to explain to the citizens of Palo Alto how they intend to go after homeless people who do not have vehicles who never get caught urinating and littering etc… in public because the police are never around to catch them?
There are a 70 homeless people living in Palo Alto who do not have vehicles whom this ordinance will not affect who will still be urinating and littering when the police are not around to catch them.
Perhaps Kniss and Klein will make it illegal for homeless people to walk around with a sleeping bag and a back-pack full of clothes or even ride a bicycle.
Based upon the City’s rational for criminalizing the use of vehicles by the homeless, one has to conclude that the City will pass an ordinance outlawing the use of bicycles and eliminate the bars from downtown.
Who would be more likely to pass a Vehicle Habitation Ordinance; Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. or would Jefferson Davis, Hitler and the Klu Klux Klan be more likely?
“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.” John Wooden
”We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.” Will Rogers
Klein, Kniss, Keene, Burns and the others will no doubt take umbrage to the above characterization, however instead of contemplating how their own actions are perceived by those whom they will be affecting they hide in denial refusing to allow their position to be challenged from true debate where legitimacy or illegitimacy of any position is revealed.
“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).” Ayn Rand