Casting democracy to the wind on the homeless in Palo Alto

democracydeadDemocracy was cast to the wind this evening leaving its citizens voices dead on arrival.  The Policy and Service Committee clearly became a Politburo rather then a democratically elected body in its decision to not listen to the citizens it serves.  The last time I looked the citizens of Palo Alto were clearly in charge.  Not anymore!

Despite an overwhelming community disapproval displayed during oral communications, the council took upon itself and decided to move forward with the proposed ban making it a misdemeanor for those found inhabiting or living in their vehicle a six month jail sentence if found guilty as noted by former Santa Clara County Public Defender Aram James.

Just the first round

Attorney Aram James
Attorney Aram James

For many in attendance it was what appeared to be a crushing defeat for homeless rights.  Not so this is just the first round says Aram James a long time Palo Alto resident and attorney. He relates;

“Folks don’t hold your heads down! Tonight was just the 1st round, the opening arguments.  The politicians just played their best hand in full public view like discovery in a criminal trial we (the public) now know their best arguments–very weak at best.

Nearly thirty members of the public spoke all but two oppose this ugly draconian ordinance. Now’s the time to redouble our efforts–the full jury has not yet spoken!! Now we organize remember our weapons, jury nullification, and the defense of necessity, discriminatory enforcement and defenses to this ordinance only limited by our imagination!!!

No jury of 12 citizens will ever convict for violation of this immoral proposed ordinance!! The community united will never be defeated by self-serving politicians. It’s time to fight back elect members of the un-housed community–including vehicle dweller–to our city council”.

One thing is for sure the homeless advocates were out in force from PhD’s, lawyers, physiologists to the homeless vehicle dwellers just as predicted in the Daily Post. They really put on a “show”.

Mr. Price in his editorial seamed to vilify the homeless but if it were his newspaper racks on the line I’m sure he would be whistling a different tune. After all it’s the First Amendment he’s so proud about first and not the horrible state of homelessness on a national level.

Hopefully in round two community voices will rise to the occasion once again when full council is set to bless the ordinance so as to defeat this draconian ordinance and attack on the homeless once and for all.

Suggested legal defense strategies:

Tobe v. City of Santa Ana (1995)

In re Eichorn (1998) 69 Cal. App. 4th 382 [81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 535]

Implementation of the necessity defense in case of criminalization of homelessness

Necessary Defense from ending the threat of nuclear war

Why a fundamental understanding of jury nullification is so critical to taking back our criminal justice system

Gideon v. Wainwright – 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

Past historic Palo Alto Police soft interactions with Vehicle Dweller

Palo Alto settles Taser suit for $35K

9 Replies to “Casting democracy to the wind on the homeless in Palo Alto”

  1. Thank you Mark and Aram for this fine report of a dismal event. I am glad so many spoke up for the humane point of view.

    As Aram James says, it is not the time to hold our heads down. The arguments for the ordinance are paper thin covers for a basic fear. People hope to ward off homelessness, to keep it out of sight, to make it “go away” with this misguided ordinance.

    There are NOT more disturbances at Cubberley. There are NOT “a few bad apples” for whom the under armed, inadequately equipped need “another tool” to deal with. These are either piece of misinformation or conscious lies.

    The truth is that the police have a history of harassing homeless people. In other California communities, there have been most unfortunate cases where the police have attacked, beaten, and killed unarmed, homeless people. They have come to Cubberley on more than one occasion for no apparent reason and rousted and threatened people who were peacefully sleeping in their homes, such as they are. This is in direct opposition to the Fourth Amendment right to be secure and safe in one’s home–even if that home is a blanket on the ground or the backseat of a car.

    If those Palo Altans who believe in the “don’t put milk out for stray cats” philosophy that underlies The Dreaded Ordinance (TDO) visited San Francisco, San Jose, or Santa Cruz and viewed the homeless situation in those urban areas– they’d be thankful for the homeless community in Palo Alto.

    The homeless community in Palo Alto save the community a fortune in street cleaning. The Downtown Streets Team clean the streets far more cheaply than union wage street cleaners in San Francisco. Individual members of the Palo Alto community clean up the grounds at Cubberley and other places around town. They clean up after themselves and they clean up the trash that is left behind by others.

    One night a couple of summers ago a homeless man called in an alarm that saved the library about $40,000 in books from being burned.

    As Aram James says, we have not yet begun to campaign against TDO. There are many people of good will, human feelings, and charitable heart in the Palo Alto community. We will do all we can to rally their support and make our case very clear to the community at large.

    There is a good Palo Alto and a more fear-movitvated Palo Alto. We will be appealing to and organizing the good citizens of Palo Alto to follow their better angels and come to the defense of the least of their brethren.

    If necessary we will bring suit in court to secure the rights that housed people have and that are denied to those of us without fixed homes. That will be expensive, time consuming, and embarrassing. We do not chose such a path, but if those who insist on solving a social problem with criminal means make it necessary, we will defend our homes and our rights.

  2. 6/26/2013

    Hi Molly and J.J.,

    (Molly O’Neal Santa Clara County Public Defender & J.J. Knapp, Assistant Public Defender)

    I hope that both of you are doing extremely well and that everything at the office is going as well as expected in this era of limited resources for the entire criminal justice system, but particularly where the limited resources of public defender offices state and nationwide is at a crisis point.

    I want to thank both of you for all of your assistance thus far in our community struggle to hold back the City of Palo Alto in its attempt to further criminalize the homeless and more specifically vehicle dwellers.

    Last night at the Policy and Services Committee 25 members of the public spoke re the proposed ordinance, 23 in opposition and 2 in support. Ultimately, in a 3-0 vote the committee voted to approve the ordinance and to pass it on to the full city council (9 members) as soon as August, for a final vote on this ugly ordinance.

    We will now be redoubling our efforts to fight back against this draconian proposal. I hope to speak to both of you soon. It is my wish that the office take a more visible stand against this proposed ordinance that if passed will surely negatively impact your/our office that is already laboring under immense pressures.

    I am sending along a link to a piece written by the editor of the Palo Alto Free Press, Mark Petersen-Perez, describing last night’s meeting and including some of my post meeting comments:

    At the bottom of the article, under the caption Suggested Legal Defense Strategies–you will see links to several important cases and articles related to our current battle.

    I invite both of you to read the right on point dissent/analysis of Justice Stanley Mosk in another homeless struggle,

    Please pay particular attention to Mosk’s discussion of the impact of sending such innocuous cases into an already overwhelmed criminal justice system.

    Okay, y old warrior public defender self is with both of you –and the entire office–every day.

    Best regards,

    Aram James

    1. I’m not impressed with Aram James’s identity politics with Stanley Mosk. No matter how “ugly’ and unconstitutional the ordinance is, his so-called Public Defenders will find a way to extort a guilty plea.

  3. Maybe PA will pass this into law, and then THEN it can be a fire that spurs a lawsuit to compare with yesterday’s DOMA ruling by the supreme court. In a sense, the extreme nature of this ordinance is comparable to Prop 8 banning gay marriage.

    Every time I hear news about immigration I think about the homeless situation – why not on the news, why not in the public eye from a sympathetic view rather than disgust as if homeless are something to discard.

    Yes, illegal immigrants are contributing to the homeless problem, because jobs that are now nearly exclusively given to cross-border immigrants – whether legal or not – were at one time the “fall back” jobs for those who were between jobs: restaurant work, construction, manual labor stuff.

    Nowadays, it is rare for a non-Spanish speaker to get hired to work at a restaurant or in construction.

    I am hoping to see more news stories to bring the plight of homeless into a different light. Somehow, the social viewpoint seems to equate being homeless with drug or alcohol addiction. I don’t know the stats on homeless causes, but I have met women who became homeless due to domestic violence, and I myself became homeless after an injury prevented me from working.

    And then there is the issue of government “support” – in which a homeless person is NOT allowed the $300/mo general assistance allowance because if homeless, they don’t need money. (This is what the county told me.) And if a person is housed and allocated the 300/mo, that amount is reduced by about half because foodstamps allowance is 150//mo. (This varies per county, but San Mateo and Santa Clara do this.)

    So who’s not going to become homeless if they lose their job and require government assistance?

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