Just Say No To Palo Alto’s Proposed Vehicle Habitation Ban

interiorgilkisonvanOn 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.

Living in Vehicles Ordinance

  3 comments for “Just Say No To Palo Alto’s Proposed Vehicle Habitation Ban

  1. Lynn huidekoper
    August 2, 2013 at 1:31 am

    Aram.
    Great article. In the Single Payer movement where we are fighting corporate America(the health insurance industry) we also have a MLK quote: “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”
    Our voices must be very loud and determined to fight the injustice the PA City Council is about to mete on people who are not multi-millionaires. As you said this is the next BIG Civil Rights issue. Does the City of Palo Alto want to go down as the meanest city in America?

       2 likes

  2. Aram James
    August 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

    8/4/2013

    Dear Editor,

    Attached (below) is a two page flyer prepared by long time, City of Santa Cruz, 1st amendment and homeless activist, Robert Norse. The below Palo Alto Alert consists of a one page list of Palo Alto City officials and members of the local press… who can be contacted by e-mail…for either writing directly to the council members… and or for submitting letters to the editors of the various local press ( see: list of e-mails below). The Second page of the flyer consists of a Guest Opinion from the August 3, 2013 San Jose Merury News: Aram James: Car dwelling ban would demonize the homeless.

    As a member of the StopTheban coalition…here in Palo Alto…I want to personally thank Robert Norse for organizing so much outside support …in opposition to Palo Alto’s latest hate law–a proposed no vehicle habitation ordinance.

    The final vote on the matter comes this Monday August 5, 2013. The below Palo Alto Alert: provides all of the necessary details of… when and where people will start assembling for a Rally, in opposition to the proposed ban (6pm)… as well as the tentative times for all of us to speak directly to the city council. We can then each remind the law makers, why it is that we oppose this ugly hate law:

    Finally, if you wish to speak directly with Robert Norse …about these issues…Robert hosts a radio show at Free Radio Santa Cruz Broadcaster 101.3 FM… Sun 9:30am-1pm. Call on air at 831 427-3772 or at 831- 469-3119.
    Aram James

    Palo Alto ALERT: City Council Voting Monday to Criminalize Folks Sleeping in Vehicles!
    Palo Alto City Council votes on this matter Monday August 5–during their evening session. It begins at 7 PM. There is an initial Oral Communications period 7:15 – 7:30 PM during which general remarks can be made supporting justice for the homeless. The Homeless Habitation Ban is Item #17- 8:40 PM- 10:45 PM. -with a long agenda packet at https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/35333 .

    E-Mail the five Councl members most likely to vote no:
    (1) Karen Holman: karen.holman@cityofpaloalto.org
    (2) Gail Price: gail.price@cityofpaloalto.org
    (3) Pat Burt: patrick.burt@cityofpaloalto.org
    (4) Marc Berman: marc.berman@cityofpaloalto.org
    (5) Greg Schmid: greg.schmid@cityofpaloalto.org

    The four hopelessly-homeless-hostile Council members:-big time for the ban:
    (6) liz.kniss@cityofpaloalto.org
    (7) nancy.shepard@cityofpaloalto.org>,
    (8) larry.klein@cityofpaloalto.org
    (9) gregscharff@aol.com Greg Scharff is also the Palo Alto Mayor.
    The entire City Council can be e-mailed at city.ouncil@cityofpaloalto.org.
    The hostile City Manager (probably the power in the City) is James Keene and can be reached at James.Keene@CityofPaloAlto.org… –
    The police chief, Dennis Burns, who has recently shmoozed with opponents of the Ban, and invited input is at dennis.burns@cityofpaloalto.org.

    Aram James, former Public Defender, who wrote the accompanying article, suggests writers can mention his name or use his article. Letters to the local paper(s) can be sent to. .
    jgreen@dailynewsgroup.com or letters@mercurynews.com Jason Green of the Palo Alto Daily and San Jose Mercury News
    sdremann@paweekly.com Sue Dremann (a muzzled opponent of the Ban) from the PA Weekly, the “rich folks paper” Rich Folks paper: letters@paweekly.com
    gsheyner@paweekly.com.. Gennady Shenyer is another writer at the P.A. Weekly covering the City Council.
    Daily Post to the editor: Dave Price: price@padailypost.com or letters@dailynewsgroup.com or letters@padailypost.com
    Palo Alto Free Press to: paloaltofreepress@gmail.com (Mark-Petersen Perez is the editor):

    All these writers can be urged to write in opposition to the Ban, and/or to forward your own letters to the editor. Though the first vote on this issue is Monday at City Council, I believe there will be a second reading at the next meeting, so publicity can be important. At the City Council committee meeting that forwarded this Ban, the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed it (though the committee voted 3-0 to move it forward).

    E-MAIL TO SUPPORT THE PALO ALTO VEHICULAR HOMELESS—IF PALO ALTO WINS, SANTA CRUZ WINS! THE RIGHT TO SLEEP IS A HUMAN RIGHT !

    Aram James: Car dwelling ban would demonize the homeless
    Aram James is a retired Santa Clara County public defender.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_23789219/aram-james-car-dwelling-ban-would-demonize-homeless?IADID=Search-www.mercurynews.com-www.mercurynews.com
    On Monday, the Palo Alto City Council will consider passing an ordinance that would criminalize living in one’s vehicle in the city. If passed, the ordinance would carry upon conviction up to six months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
    After it appeared that the council had abandoned such an ordinance following a 1½-year battle between homeless activists and city government, a reconfigured council — with newly elected member Liz Kniss leading the charge — earlier this year began anew an attempt to foist this draconian, hate-filled legislation down the throats of the good people of this community.
    Prosecutions under this ban would have extremely adverse consequences on an already overburdened criminal justice system in Santa Clara County.
    Given the innocuous nature of the conduct that can trigger charges under this new law, judges, juries and public defenders likely would become extraordinarily displeased to see these cases substantially increase their caseload, flood their courtrooms and drain limited judicial resources that are needed to defend and prosecute serious cases.
    Outside of Palo Alto City Hall is King Plaza, so named in January 2008 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
    On a plaque in their honor are two quotes that are extraordinarily relevant to the campaign to convince at least five council members to oppose the proposed ordinance:
    • “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.” — A speech by Martin Luther King at Stanford University in 1967
    • “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.” — A speech at Georgia State University in 2000 by Coretta Scott King
    In April, the city council gave City Manager James Keene the discretion to raise the banner for gay pride and passed a resolution recognizing that 76 percent of voters in the city rejected Proposition 8. In The April 13 Daily News story on this action, Mayor Greg Scharff was quoted saying: “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 regarding homelessness in this country.
    I can think of no greater irony and hypocrisy than for Palo Alto’s leaders, who pride themselves for honoring the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the more recent civil rights struggle for gay rights, to now pass an ordinance that is contrary to every notion of civil rights and equal protection of the law. The proposed ban would demonize, marginalize and criminalize the most vulnerable among us — the unhoused and vehicle dwellers. In the end, the only right, moral and constitutionally appropriate action to take is to table this misguided & mean-spirited proposed vehicle habitation ordinance forever.
    Anyone who opposes this ordinance should attend the city council meeting Monday to speak out against this unconscionable hate law.
    Flier by Norse of HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) 831-423-4833 http://www.huffsantacruz.org

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