“Not in response to the Occupy movement,” officials claim
By Charles Douglas
Arcata city officials are set to redefine camping in a manner which critics say will further restrict Constitutional rights to assemble and protest against the government.
City Attorney Nancy Diamond presented to the City Council this evening a set of amendments to the parks and grounds chapter of Arcata’s municipal codes concerning public property. They particularly define city parks, city buildings and city-owned grounds as places where camping is illegal — as opposed to the generic “public grounds” — and expands to an entire paragraph the details of what constitutes “sleeping activities or making preparations to sleep.”
Diamond, Arcata Police Department chief Tom Chapman, and city manager Randy Mendosa (the former police chief) all emphatically denied any connection between these newly drafted laws and the Occupy movement, which had its Occupy Arcata iteration set up successive encampments at the Arcata Plaza, Arcata City Hall and now at an undisclosed location in the Community Forest.
Yet none of the public speakers on the agenda item were buying their explanations.
“What did bring this on? Am I right to think maybe it had something to do with the camping that was going on for the last couple of months?” asked ex-Councilmember Dave Meserve. “This is very clearly language that is meant to target the activities of the Occupy movement.”
Meserve, who helped lead the charge to coordinate the disparate local encampments and protests under the banner of Occupy Humboldt County in the last two weeks, accused his former colleagues of hypocrisy — the Council had passed a resolution only last month which specifically expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationally and Occupy Arcata in particular.
“There is this income inequality in this country and the one percent are controlling this country through the government to do that…and now we see all these cities kicking them out…people are being moved out from their occupations, from their tent cities, and what was the power of this movement, the power of their message, was the ability to occupy public space,” he said. “I find it inconsistent, I find it reactive, I find it whittles away at the First Amendment.”
Councilmember Shane Brinton, who managed Meserve’s doomed 2010 attempt to regain a seat on the City Council, backed his play, invoking basic human rights at the same meeting where they unanimously recognized December as Human Rights Awareness Month.
“I don’t know if tents are First Amendment speech or not, that’s a bit above my pay grade, but I know that everyone in the world has to sleep,” Brinton said.
Diamond retorted that the language was based on federal regulations, and was only intended to clarify existing law.
“It’s providing more specific guidance so there’s less room for abuse,” she said. “It’s something that should be viewed as taking away potential discretion by law enforcement officers on the ground…it’s not to tighten down the rules or eliminate any particular uses now, but to provide more specific notice.
Mendosa backed her play, and defended the actions of the APD which he used to lead.
“The staff’s been working on this long before we knew about the Occupy movement,” he said.
Brinton went on to quiz Chapman on when and where the use of a blanket in public would legally constitute camping, leading to a surreal exchange with the police chief imagining different scenarios.
“Are you on the Plaza under a blanket? Hard to say, it would depend,” Chapman asked and answered himself. “Is it three in the morning, it probably would. At two in the afternoon, probably not.”
Councilmembers voted 4-1 to introduce the ordinance, with Brinton dissenting. As the regularly scheduled Council meeting for Dec. 21 has been cancelled, final adoption will have to wait until Jan. 4.
- Key parts of the City of Arcata’s proposed Ordinance 1412 (
strikethroughsare deletions, bold-italics are additions to current law):
SEC. 10000. City parks, buildings and grounds.
Such land or structuresAll parks, buildings and grounds within the Arcata limitsowned by City of Arcata shall be designated as a city park, building or ground by resolution of the City Councilshall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter.
SEC. 10004. Overnight use prohibited.
is toshall be no camping on or in public groundsCity parks, buildings and grounds, nor overnight use of public grounds or publicCity parks, buildings and grounds unless specifically authorized by the City Manager or her/his designee. “Camping” is defined as temporarily living or occupying an area in the outdoorsthe use of public parks, buildings or grounds for living accommodation purposes such as sleeping activities, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or making any fire, or using any tents or shelter or other structure or vehicle for sleeping, or doing any digging, or earth breaking, or carrying on cooking activities. The above listed activities constitute camping when it reasonably appears, in light of all the circumstances, that the participants, in conducting these activities, are in fact using the area as a living accommodation regardless of the intent of the participants or the nature of any other activities in which they may also be engaging.
SEC. 10006. Regulation of certain use of public parks, buildings and grounds
prohibited without permission.
A. No individual or group may use
publicCity parks, buildings or grounds under the following circumstances without first obtaining a permit from the City Manager or her/his designee , except for normal leisure and recreational use of City grounds when such use does not preclude or discourage similar use by others: .
1. When an activity or event is advertised to the general public in advance; or
2. When an individual or group charges a fee to attend or participate in an activity or event; or
3. When an activity or event by an individual or group precludes or discourages the simultaneous non-permitted use of that facility by other members of the public.
SEC. 10011. Duty of the City Manager to administer parks, buildings and grounds.
B. To the extent permitted by law, the City Manager may deny an application for a permit to use a City park, building or ground if the applicant or person on whose behalf the application for a permit was made has on prior occasions made material misrepresentations regarding the nature or scope of an event or activity previously permitted or has violated the terms of a prior permit issued on behalf of the applicant. The City Manager may also deny an application for a permit to use a City park, building or ground for any of the following reasons:
1. The application for a permit (including any required attachments and submissions) is not fully completed or executed;
2. The applicant has not tendered the required application fee with the application or has not tendered the required special activity event fees, insurance certificate or deposit within the times prescribed by the City Manager;
3. The application for a permit contains a material falsehood or misrepresentation;
4. The applicant is legally incompetent to contract or to sue and be sued;
5. The applicant or the person on whose behalf the application for a permit was made has on prior occasions damaged City property and has not paid in full for such damage, or has other outstanding and unpaid debts to the City;
6. A fully executed prior application for a permit for the same time and place has been received, and a permit has been or will be granted to a prior applicant authorizing uses or activities which do not reasonably permit multiple occupancy of the particular park, building or ground, or part thereof;
7. The use or activity intended by the application would conflict with previously planned programs organized and conducted by the City and previously scheduled for the same time and place;
8. The proposed use or activity is prohibited by or inconsistent with the classifications and uses of the park, building or ground, or part thereof designated pursuant to this Title or City Council regulation adopted in accordance with this Title.
9. The use or activity intended by the applicant would present a danger to the health or safety of the applicant, or other users of the park, building or ground, or City employees or the public;
10. The applicant has not complied or cannot comply with applicable licensure or permit requirements, ordinances or regulations of the City, Arcata Fire Protection District, County and State concerning the sale or offering for sale of any goods or services, recycling and waste diversion and erection of temporary structures;
11. The use or activity intended by the applicant is prohibited by local, state or federal law or regulation.