On August 5, 2013 the city council will consider passing an ordinance that would criminalize living in one’s vehicle here in Palo Alto. If passed and enacted… the anti-vehicle dweller ordinance would carry, upon conviction …for its violation…up to 6 months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
After it appeared that the city had abandoned the proposed ordinance, after a nearly 1 ½ year battle (July 2011 thru November 2012), between homeless activists and the city government … a reconfigured city council (beginning in January 2013), with newly elected city council person Liz Kniss, a recently termed out member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and former mayor and city council member in Palo Alto… leading the charge on steroids, to yet again attempt to foist this draconian, hate filled legislation down the throats of the good people of this community.
Prosecutions under this proposed ordinance would have extremely adverse consequences on an already overburdened criminal justice system…here in Santa Clara County.
Given the innocuous nature of the conduct that can trigger charges under this new law, judges, juries and public defenders (who would be charged with defending the bulk of these cases), are all likely to be extraordinarily displeased to see these cases substantially increase their case loads, flood their courtrooms and drain very limited judicial resources that are needed to defend and prosecuted the huge number of serious cases .
Trial of just one such case, in the courts of this county—will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 a day, monies clearly better spent in finding permanent solutions to homelessness.
Each case charged under this law—preventing people with no other choice from living in their car—will be defended by raising the very time consuming, complex and expensive “Defense of Necessity.” See: Defense of Necessity in homeless cases:
Other viable defenses to charges brought under this ordinance would include: discriminatory enforcement, outrageous government conduct, and defense by way of juries exercising their inherent power to vote not guilty despite a clear violation of the law—because the jury concludes i.e., that a particular law is morally repugnant i.e., such as prosecuting member of the homeless and car dwelling community for the most de minimis conduct. For more on Jury Nullification
Outside of Palo Alto City Hall is King Plaza–named in January of 2008–in honor of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.
On a plaque in their honor displayed in King Plaza, are the following two quotes, both extraordinarily relevant to the campaign to convince at least 5 members of the Palo Alto city council…to vote in opposition to the proposed ordinance:
(1) “Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism. We must realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” Martin Luther King from Stanford University in 1967.
(2)”The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members…a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.” Speech at Georgia State University in 2000 by Coretta Scott King.
This year, in April… our current city council… by a 6-0 vote, gave City Manager James Keene.. the discretion to raise the banner for gay pride … as well as pass a resolution recognizing that 76 percent of voters in the city rejected Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Rainbow Flag will fly in Palo Alto.
In this same article, current Mayor Greg Scharff is quoted as follows: “This is the civil rights issue of our time.” “I see no possible argument why people should not be allowed to marry whoever they wish.”
I believe the same arguments and logic can be applied to the struggle to end homelessness here in Palo Alto and across this country. It is incontrovertible that the fight to end homelessness, is equally the civil rights issue of our time. To state otherwise requires a total denial of the facts surrounding the current crisis re homelessness in this country.
I can think of no greater irony and hypocrisy than for the city of Palo Alto and its city council and government who pride themselves for honoring the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s…and the more recent civil rights struggle for gay rights, to now pass an ordinance–contrary to every notion of civil rights and equal protection of the law, a law, that if passes demonizes, marginalizes, and criminalizes…the most vulnerable among us…the unhoused and vehicle dwellers.
The arc of justice in this country is fluid, but leave no doubt, bends towards more not less justice and toward more not less civil rights for the homeless.
In just the last two years Rhode Island and Connecticut have passed Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights. Many other states will soon follow with similar legislation…outlawing the very type of ordinance our Palo Alto City Council is threatening to pass and enact.
In the end… the only right, moral and constitutionally appropriate action to take…is to table this misguided and mean-spirited proposed vehicle habitation ordinance forever!
Anyone who opposes this ordinance, stands for justice.and is unwilling to tolerate a hate law targeted at the most vulnerable members of our community, should attend the city council meeting on Monday August 5th, to speak-out and voice your opposition to this unconscionable proposed hate law.