Things the Public Does Not Know

A discussion about the value of public relations, an acknowledgement of how rarely we have time for this important aspect of police obsolescence and finally a list of things we are pretty sure the general public has no idea are happening in this town came out of our weekly meeting.

Each one of these items is worthy of its own informational campaign.  Whether we have the time and energy to help people understand these issues is the question.

After the 1989 quake, the Downtown Redevelopment Agency had a vision of rebuilding this sleepy beach town in the image of Los Gatos or Carmel.  They had dreams of a beautiful, affluent, bustling commercial district with sleek, modern cars, and well-placed landscaping trees, a mix of local businesses and tasteful chain stores, and most of all, culturally-diverse crowds of happy, clean, and wealthy  people shopping and enjoying the downtown ambiance.  You can almost imagine the architect's rendering in your mind.  But it hasn't quite worked out that way. There was a fly in the ointment.

Dozens of benches and peaceful sitting spots were built into the landscape of the new downtown, and from the moment they were put in, the town realized it had a problem.  Street kids, homeless people, idle youth, very old people, and people set free from underfunded institutions were using these benches and sitting spots.  This wasn't the vision they had of an affluent downtown.  Almost immediately the benches quietly started disappearing (in many places, you can still find the bolt holes).  The pleasant planters along which people would sit, had rails moved from the inside to the outside edge to prevent loiterers.

When people sat against buildings, the town passed a law to prohibit sitting within nine feet of a building.  When people sat on the scant edges of planters anyway, they passed a law to prohibit sitting on any landscaping.  When people sat on the sidewalk, they passed a law against it.  When people used the few remaining benches, they passed an absurd law to make sitting longer than one hour a ticketable offense.  Downtown businesses privatized wide swaths of sidewalk with tables, chairs, and low fences, but when non-consumers used these spaces, new laws said they were trespassing.  When people still found places to sit and to gather, they passed a rule that said you couldn't loiter within 50 feet of an ATM or a change machine, then they strategically deployed change machines at places where people gathered.  When people still found places to hang out, they passed a law in which you couldn't loiter within 15 feet of art or statues, then they methodically deployed art up and down the downtown area, and designated informational kiosks and directories as "art."  Then they prohibited smoking downtown.  And dogs.  And hacky-sacks.  And possessing a blanket.  And blowing bubbles. No shit.

As everyone except shoppers and merchants evacuated downtown, the long-abandoned river levee became the new zone of contention as people tried to use it for sitting, napping, and playing music.  New signs were erected closing the entire area below the levee including the river bank and the floodplains, preventing access to the river that runs through the heart of downtown. 

The police and the downtown "hospitality hosts" (hospitality, as in making sure you obey) are the selective enforcers of these rules.  Most well-heeled Santa Cruz residents or guests do not run afoul of these laws and so are scarcely aware of them.  Having money to afford private space of one's own (a car, a roof overhead at night) insulates one from the difficulty of just trying to exist physically in this town.

We don't think the public knows the magnitude of the absurdity of the situation.  However, if this level of oppression means that the public, going about their business in their stable lives, doesn't have to see a homeless, disabled veteran asking for change in front of the post office, we are unconvinced they would care.

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