Sleeping in public will no longer be illegal as of Nov. 15
By Charles Douglas
With little deliberation, a unanimous Eureka City Council charged ahead last night with ordinances seeking to stem the tide of a crime wave.
A crime wave, that is, of panhandling on transit buses and sitting on sidewalks in various business districts.
In her very brief staff report, City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson admitted that the current Section 130.02 prohibited laying or sleeping. The new ordinance does not mention sleeping at all, and the ban on sitting & lying in 18 separate sections of the city does not apply between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., as originally reported by the Sentinel on Oct. 1.
Day-Wilson confessed upon introducing the ordinances a fortnight before that she had engaged in a sudden re-write days before her presentation of them to the City Council, as a landmark ruling had been issued last month by Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen which tossed out nearly all of the Arcata anti-panhandling ordinance’s restrictions against holding signs and asking for help on street corners and other public properties.
“I quickly revised the ordinance to reflect Judge Reinholtsen’s concerns,” Day-Wilson said.
With only one member of the public arising on Oct. 16 to voice any objections, Third Ward Councilmember Mike Newman repeated on Tuesday the same throwaway line spat out two weeks earlier about the law being another tool in the toolbelt of the police state.
“It’s not just going to be an arbitrary thing, its’ going to be a useful thing, its not just going to be meted out as a strong arm tactic, it’s meant to help clean up parts of the city around our business areas that have habitual people who are lying in the area of businesses.” Newman said.
More public opposition was in evidence when the ordinances were introduced on Oct. 2, with all but one speaker denouncing the Council for crafting laws designed to criminalize homelessness.
“Before you make any decisions, make sure you let a human rights group see what you are about to do,” Occupy Eureka activist Dane Carr said at the public hearing which introduced the ordinances. “Before you make any true decision, why don’t you try living like us first.”
“Try feeling what it’s like to be homeless before you try banning our activities more. We can barely live out here to begin with.”
U.S. Army veteran Gabriel McMillan, who was honorably discharged from the 101st Airborne, gave a lengthy address on the problems of the economy leading to increasing desperation amongst the populace.
“This nation was founded on property rights, the right to have what you need to live, every human being has those rights,” McMillan said. “I don’t think you understand what you’re doing when you make these laws. You’re driving a wedge between the government and the people. You’re creating a division in this city, in this nation, and throughout the world through the example you’re setting with this policy.”
“You need to turn around. You need to bring this city together…we need just and benevolent leaders who will provide for the safety and happiness of all of our citizens here and restore domestic tranquility. That is your responsibility. A failure to do that is a failure to govern. And anyone who fails to govern and leads us down a path where our economy gets worse and the people oppose the government more and more will be judged for that and will be held accountable.”
Ciarabellini noted at the time that exemptions existed to the anti-sitting law for persons attending a parade or a permitted demonstration.
“It appropriately covers events where free speech is valued,” she said.
Fourth Ward Councilmember Linda Atkins asked whether the panhandling ordinance in particular would result in a mere catch-and-release program for the destitute.
“Often when I’ve been approached by aggressive solicitors, the people are obviously mentally ill, and it just gets to be a much bigger problem than just giving somebody a ticket for soliciting,” Atkins said. “how will this help?
Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham said his department had hired a former mental health worker to accompany officers three days a week to help determine whether a ’5150 status’ could be designated, which requires the 72-hour involuntary committal of a supposedly deranged person in a mental health facility.
“[In] 72 hours they could be back, yes,” Harpham concluded.
The role of law enforcement in enforcing these ordinances was also queried by local retiree Loraine Dunaway, who has previously asked the Council to address a crime wave of property theft and violence on the Westside of Eureka.
“For the last several months, every time we attend a council meeting and Chief Harpham comes up, we hear about the crime rate in Eureka,” Dunaway said. “We hear about the out of control crime rate in Eureka. It doesn’t seem like the police need another thing on their plate.”
“I can’t imagine how the police could respond appropriately to these ordinances. They seem overwhelmed. They really do at this point. The evidence in the statistics in this town are clear. They are overwhelmed…”
Mayor Frank Jager was moved to respond to Dunaway with some measured amount of agreement, before the usual refrain to tool analogies.
“It’s true that the police are overwhelmed in the city of Eureka, but they’re responding to these incidents already,” Jager said. “This just gives them additional tools to deal with these incidents they’re responding to, and it just helps the police force be more effective in what they do.”
Both Ordinance 856 (anti-sitting) and Ordinance 854 (anti-panhandling) were introduced on Oct. 2 and adopted on Oct. 16 on unanimous votes. They will take effect on Nov. 15 — just in time for the holiday shopping season.