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Salinas seeks to end its homeless problem by decree

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Sofia, Bulgaria - November 4, 2014: Homeless man is sleeping on a bench in the center of Sofia. Years after joining the EU Bulgaria is still the poorest country in the union.The city of Salinas plans to try to do Tuesday what no other cities have been able to accomplish — to solve its homeless problem by ordinance.

The council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Rotunda, just yards from where a few dozen homeless people and their advocates have been holding nightly sleep-ins for the last several months.

According to a city staff memo to the council, that has resulted in numerous complaints from city employees and others who say they have been intimidated or harassed by the campers and offended by the defecation and urination that occurs in the bushes and elsewhere when toilet facilities aren’t available. The proposed ordinance would make it illegal to camp, loiter, defecate or urinate on most public property in the city and a fair amount of private property.

While a handful of cities have addressed the same issues issue by creating additional shelter space, most have responded by criminalizing homelessness, using citations and various police powers to break up encampments when they become too large to ignore.

Santa Cruz has been a magnet for transients for decades because of its youth culture, good weather and seemingly open attitudes and it has found itself erecting a series of legalistic and administrative barriers to keep the complaints down. Santa Cruz police told the City Council that the department issued 1,913 camping citations last year, with about 3 percent of those involving sleeping in a vehicle. Police Chief Kevin Vogel said 96 percent of the citations went unpaid. A news account on his report to the council didn’t say whether the issuance of those citations had any impact on the underlying issues.

A memo to the Salinas City Council from Michael Mutalipassi, senior deputy city attorney, says violations of the ordinance would be criminal misdemeanors.

“A purpose of the proposed ordinance,” he wrote, “is to maintain public and private lands, streets, sidewalks, alleys, ways, creeks, waterways, parks, playgrounds, recreation areas, plazas, open spaces, lots, parcels and other public and private areas within the city, in a clean, sanitary and accessible condition. A further purpose of this proposed ordinance is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. To that end, the proposed ordinance makes it unlawful to camp, establish, maintain, operate or occupy camping facilities, or use camp paraphernalia on public or private property subject to some exception.”

He continued, “It has been reported by city employees, as well as members of the public at large, that overnight camping has specifically interfered with their use of public buildings, public sidewalks, public streets, parking lots, parking garages, and other open spaces, most notably the public space surrounding the John Steinbeck Library and the public space in front of City Hall. City employees leaving City Hall have been confronted by overnight campers screaming, yelling, and displaying other aggressive and erratic behavior that has made those employees fear for their safety upon ingress or egress to or from the building. City employees have also been confronted by overnight campers subjecting them to unwanted sexual comments.”

Mutalipassi wrote in some detail that there have been numerous complaints about the smell.

“The ordinance creates a prohibition on public urination and defecation except when using a urinal, toilet, or commode located in a bathroom, restroom, or other structure specifically designated for the purpose of urination and defecation.

“In addition to establishing a prohibition on camping,” he went on, “the ordinance will prohibit certain conduct in public areas or areas associated with business establishments or public buildings. The ordinance shall make it unlawful to loiter in a manner as to prevent the free passage of the public on any public street or sidewalk. It shall also make it unlawful to loiter at the entrance or exit of any business establishment or public building if that action obstructs or hinders the free passage of the public. The ordinance makes it unlawful to walk, stand, sit, or lie on any monument, vase, decorative fountain, drinking fountain, bike rack, trash receptacle, median, fire hydrant, street-tree planter, berm, utility cabinet, railing, fence, planter, or upon any other public property not designed or customarily used for such purposes. The ordinance further makes it unlawful to take any action, in public, to abuse or mutilate any tree, plant, or lawn.”

To read the ordinance, go here and click on the link for the agenda. From there, you can link to the ordinance.

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Oscar - trofeo doratoIt was impossible to dip into the muddy waters of current events this week without being socked in the jaw by the realization that plenty of people, once again, are hopping mad about the Oscar nominations.

This year’s anger centered on the complete absence of actors of color from the nominees for the top acting awards, a phenomenon not seen since 1998.

I forget why everyone was ticked off last year when the Academy of Whatever announced the Oscar-worthy films and film people.

But I have no doubt there was great debate about how blind the academy voters — whoever they are — were by snubbing this or that film, actor or sound editor (not really, there is never the slightest kerfuffle over sound editing nominees, an ironic zone of silence amid the annual Oscar shout-fest.)

I have two theories about why Oscar nominations spur more vein-popping debate every year than, say, weightier issues like the widening income gap, state-sanctioned torture or the ethical considerations of buying Cuban cigars under the Obama administration’s new namby-bamby policy toward Castro’s Communist Cuba.

  1. A terrific outcry about who makes and who doesn’t make the coveted Oscar ballot generates more free buzz about more movies than if everyone were happy with the nominees. This is probably deliberate, a clever tactic devised by an industry that has cooked up nearly every trick in the heavy footlocker of press agentry.
  2. An abiding division among film cognoscenti set in motion by Marlon Brando in 1973 when, to demonstrate his solidarity with the American Indian Movement, he dispatched Salinas-born Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to the awards ceremony to make the acceptance speech in his place for Brando’s magnificent mumbling in “The Godfather.”

This “right on” moment didn’t sit well with all the folks in tuxes and fancy dresses instead of buckskin and feathers and forever politicized all things Oscar.

Personally, I care very little about the Oscars, the awards ceremony, the beautiful people on the red carpet, or the tendentious acceptance speeches by the winners. I have never clipped out an Oscars ballot from a newspaper features section nor have I attended an Oscar party to watch the televised ceremony with a bunch of overdressed movie buffs.

I blame my overall grumpy attitude about the Academy Awards on Country Joe, lead singer for the Berkeley-based psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish, one of those no-hit groups from the 1960s whose ridiculous claim to fame was to lead audiences to spell out the F-word at the tops of their cannabanoid-soaked lungs. Right on.

When I was young and impressionable, I caught CJ and the Fish at the Santa Cruz Civic auditorium in a concert one night in the early 1970s right after that distant year’s Academy Awards show.

Between songs, as he attempted to discern the tuning pegs on his guitar from the chemically induced waves of energy flashing around the stage, Country Joe rasped into the microphone,

“Did you see all those Hollywood sleazoids on television last night?”

Well, no I hadn’t. But I caught C. Joe’s disdainful drift. And ever since I’ve shied away from all things Oscar because of that long-ago insinuation that the whole deal is loaded with sleazoid cooties. Silly, yes, but true.

That is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the movies “honored” by the academy. In the past few years, I have seen and enjoyed the films “Nebraska,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Lincoln,” “Argo,” and, yes, even 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love.”

But I don’t make a point of seeing all the “best pictures” to personally judge my taste against the taste of the academy voters. It would be an exercise in self-reinforcement. Like most people, particularly movie buffs, I know I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

I still think 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” got shafted by winning only four Oscars, and none of them in major categories. Those darn sleazoids. They’ll always put a good rabbit down.

I intend the see “Selma,” one this year’s best picture nominees about Martin Luther King Jr. and the battle to ensure voting rights for black Americans. Lots of folks are mad because its director and star were snubbed by the academy voters. There are others ticked by its portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson.

I just want to see “Selma” for its portrayal of a great American story of courage, faith and daring. Who knows, what with Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and many states giddily restricting voters’ enfranchisement anew, there may well be room for what Hollywood likes best: the sequel.

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The words “Please Don’t Litter” are about as controversial as “Don’t drive drunk” or “No U-Turn,” but apparently they’re too loaded for officials of the Monterey-Salinas Transit Authority.

The regional bus authority has canceled a $7,605 contract with the Central Coast Recycling Media Coalition to have anti-littering ads placed on the sides of 39 MST buses this summer. The signs had been posted on some of the buses already but were being removed Monday. Meanwhile, officials of the Santa Cruz Metro system said they had no problem with the same ads being posted on buses there.

The ads show a gull and a crab entangled with a cigarette butt and a hamburger container respectively and declare “Please don’t litter. The difference you make is real.”

recyclephotoiMST has no problem with the message itself and certainly isn’t in favor of littering, said General Manager Carl Sedoryk. The problem, he said, is that the ads are “issue ads” that take a position rather than promote merchandise or services. While other transit agencies have adopted policies that allow them to exercise discretion over the types of issue ads to accept, Sedoryk said public agencies that accept issue ads could be put in the position of having to accept other issue ads that are more controversial.

Sedoryk said MST’s goal is to avoid controversy and to stick with a simple and clear policy. He said issue ads of almost any sort can lead to efforts to place ads on much more controversial topics such as abortion, religion and gun control.

Though the district’s aim has always been to have a clear policy, determining what amounts to an issue ad and what constitutes a permissible commercial ad can be a “very fine line,” the manager said. Advertising from social service groups and non-profits generally would be accepted if they are promoting a service but not if they are merely promoting a cause, he said. Monterey City Councilwoman Libby Downey, who chairs the MST board, could not be reached to comment Monday.

Transit districts from Seattle to New York have wrestled in recent years with a similar issue but involving advertising far more pointed and controversial than those being rejected here. In 2012, ads placed by a pro-Israel group denouncing Islamists as “savages” led to legal action and a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York to prohibit ads that it “reasonable foresees would immediately incite or promote violence” or an “immediate breach of the peace.” Anti-littering ads presumably would be acceptable under that policy.

In Seattle, ads with Middle Eastern themes prompted transit officials to tighten their advertising policy but the rules were later loosened when the financial impact on the transit authority became clear.

This summer, Middle Eastern advocacy groups have taken out large ads on the sides of District of Columbia Metro buses to argue over the most contentious of issues. The Washington Post reported that one group bought ads featuring a drawing of Uncle Sam waving a Israeli flag and decrying U.S. support for Palestinian occupation, and another group countered with ads featuring a photo of Adolph Hitler and referring to “Islamic Jew-hatred.”

Sedoryk said MST had rejected previous ads as being too political but this was the first time the ads had actually been printed  installed on buses.

“The policy was adopted by the board (about a decade ago) and we have to enforce it.” He added, however, that the coalition could choose to appeal the rejection either to him or the authority’s board of directors.

A representative of the Central Coast Recycling Media Coalition said an appeal was likely. The coalition is made up of 24 public agencies and waste disposal operations, including the cities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Del Rey Oaks, Pacific Grove, Salinas and Sand City and Monterey County.

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I Pledge Allegiance to Desalination

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47985_10151612107346163_841450537_n 2When a water district or local government in California looks at water supply projects and determines that desalination is the way to go, the first question local taxpayers might want to ask is whether the agency is a member of CalDesal.

If it is, there’s a good chance the decision was made before the studies, before anyone looked at any other methodologies.

You probably haven’t heard of CalDesal. I’m a fairly serious student of California water issues and I hadn’t until Gary Patton mentioned it in his Land Use Report this week.

I’ll tell you more about the organization in a sec. First, though, I’d like to share its Desalination Pledge. Presumably the pledge has been taken by the entire membership, including 31 water private and public water purveyors, including our very own California American Water Co. and the city of Santa Cruz.

 “I believe that in order to continue to have sufficient safe and reliable water supplies to provide for public benefit throughout the state, California must consider and develop all viable water supply sources. Therefore desalination and salinity management technology should continue to be developed with the encouragement of the state, its agencies and its municipalities.”

I’m glad to see the pledge didn’t end with the words “at all costs.”

Desalination is and probably should be considered a proper component of the measures being taken to ease the water shortage in many parts of California. For better or worse, it is part of the path the Monterey Peninsula is on as we try to ward off a state-ordered cutback in water use. But, for me at least, the existence of CalDesal and its oath have a backfire effect.

  • Why does this expensive technology, which comes with some heavy environmental baggage, need a lobby?
  • Why don’t directors of the various member agencies, such as the giant Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, recognize that it looks funny for them to be paying into a group that also includes some 40 engineering firms, construction companies and others that would benefit handsomely from a boom in desalination projects?
  • Why do they need an oath?
  • Should someone write oaths to groundwater storage and recovery, conservation and wastewater treatment.

It’s no surprise that Cal Am is a CalDesal member. Several of the consulting and engineering firms it has worked with on the Monterey County desalination project are members. So is the Nossaman law firm in Sacramento, a key player in the continuing controversies over desalination’s past and future in Monterey County. As a private company, Cal Am isn’t constrained by the conflict-of-interest rules that govern public agencies, even if it is incorrectly listed in CalDesal paperwork as a public agency. Even so, here’s hoping the dues come out of profits instead of my water bill.

A quick effort to find out more about CalDesal turned up little. Its board chairman comes from a Southern California water district and its executive director, Ron Davis, formerly held the same position with the Association of California Water Agencies. That’s the group that worked closely with Cal Am to successfully fight the recent Measure O, which could have led to a public takeover of Cal Am.

I looked into the CalDesal address, looking for more clues. I expected to see that the group shared office space with the Association of California Water Agencies or the Nossaman firm. Instead, Suites 950 at 770 L St. in Sacramento is a glorified mail drop or, as they call them these days, a “virtual office.” As the sales literature says, “Impress your clients with a virtual address.”

I am impressed, though probably not the way they were hoping.

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