Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Recall Canvasser Detained by Police at Whole Foods for Threatening and Harassing Staff and Customers

A Santa Cruz United recall signature gatherer was handcuffed and detained by Santa Cruz Police at Whole Foods Market on September 10 for harassing and threatening customers and management, and for blocking the entrance to the market repeatedly, according to Whole Foods management and police. The man was eventually released without arrest, after he agreed to move away from the market's entrance to the Whole Foods "free speech zone", which he did. He then began to aggressively solicit signatures in the parking lot, at times running up quickly to arriving cars. Eventually he moved in front of the Rite Aid entrance, which is located next to Whole Foods.

The canvasser delivered the same few lines for all those he approached, asking if they would like to sign the petitions to recall Councilmembers Chris Krohn and Drew Glover, because they are "bad for the homeless". The claim has been repeated by a number of Santa Cruz United canvassers, as reported on Indybay and elsewhere. The approach has been widely denounced by supporters of the progressive Councilmembers, who say the claim is disingenuous, and point to both Glover and Krohn's voting record on the City Council, where the two have been the most vocal advocates for the homeless, and have put forth more proposals for expanding homeless services than the other Councilmembers.

After releasing the canvasser, the police officer spoke briefly in private with the Whole Foods Manager inside the front of the market. In an interview with the manager after the officer left, she said the canvasser had called her the n-word, and that he said it "under his breath" to her (it should be noted that she is white).

She said that for several weeks now, the man has regularly shouted at customers, called them names, and is very aggressive with them. Besides the n-word, she said he has called her "every other name in the book" for simply asking him to honor the free speech zone at Whole Foods. The free speech zone at Whole Foods is defined as being anywhere in the parking area.

After sharing stories with her husband about her interactions with this signature gatherer, the Whole Foods manager said he fears for her safety. However, she was firm in stating the canvasser's threats will not change how she does her job.

She also added that it was "too bad" the recall canvassers were not engaging people in a "knowledgeable debate" on the issue, as opposed to employing an aggressive technique with community members.

It is clear in the video posted above, that the police officer heard the canvasser being asked if he had called the Whole Foods Manager the n-word, and the officer responded, "he called her a lot more than that". The officer can also be heard stating on the video that the recall canvasser was detained for "harassing and threatening".

When interviewed, the canvasser denied calling the manager the n-word. He denied any wrong doing whatsoever. In the video, the officer spoke about an arrest "warrant" that was active on the canvasser, but after being released, the canvasser explained that it was for an unpaid traffic ticket. The police officer left fairly quickly.

When asked what his name was, the canvasser said it was "Rob Baltimore", however he was calling himself "Michael" when approaching random people to sign the petitions. He said he had been working as a petition signature gatherer for 14 years, and that he was able to get a very large number of people to sign the Santa Cruz United recall petitions. When questioned, he claimed to be a registered voter in Santa Cruz. Later he admitted that "Rob Baltimore" was not his real name.

When he approached one person for signatures, who was on their way into Rite Aid, the person asked the canvasser if he was being paid. The canvasser replied, "no, I am not".

The canvasser was with a person he described as his "son". At one point the son said he was 22 years old. At another point he implied he was underage. In the video, the canvasser apologized to his son for the incident with police, and indicated to the officer he was doing it all for the son. Both the father and the son possessed clipboards that held small stacks of the recall petitions, along with some Santa Cruz United literature. The two of them possessed three or four clipboards in total. The father held two and the son held one or two, however the son stood by without ever approaching people, or collecting signatures, while his father did the work. This may have been because they were being closely observed.

According to reporter Autumn Sun, who wrote a recent article published to Indybay about his encounter with two different aggressive recall signature gatherers at Whole Foods on September 5, Rite Aid's policy with regards to the canvassers is the same as Whole Food's. A Rite Aid employee told Autumn Sun that they have had to chase away the signature gatherers from blocking the front door to the store a number of times, but that the canvassers keep returning.

Following the publication of the photo and the above video of the recall canvasser's detainment at Whole Foods on September 10, a number of individuals on social media commented about their interactions with the man. Here the comments of five different people:

1. "By sheer coincidence I was walking out of Whole Foods as the very scene you photographed was just unfolding. (The video you show was apparently taken a few minutes later, after things calmed down.) I have to say, as an un-involved observer, that when I cam out of the store the signature gatherer was doing everything he could to be as obnoxious and confrontational as possible, practically demanding to be arrested while claiming his rights were being violated. He was standing directly at the front door entrance to Whole Foods, and the policeman's efforts to have anything resembling a calm or at least civil discussion about not blocking the entrance were continuously thwarted by this man shouting insults & legalistic demands into the policeman's face from two feet away. (For the record, I had already signed the petition he was promoting -- except when I signed it a couple of days earlier, it was being circulating by a woman sitting at a chair at the edge of the parking lot about 25 feet from Whole Food's entrance, causing zero problems for customers or Whole Foods, and sparking zero intervention from anyone.) All in all, the more recent event was a very discouraging example of democracy gone awry."

2. "This dude was an asshole talking shit to people."

3. "What I've learned from witnesses is that he was calling folks names."

4. "I noticed the same man at Trader Joe’s and caused such a Rucus myself that he was so embarrassed that he left because he couldn’t get any signatures. He claimed to be getting signatures for rent control."

5. "We've been harassed by these guys, too, following us and arguing after we don't sign and tell them we object."

In August, Carol Polhamus of Santa Cruz United wrote on Councilmember Glover's Facebook page that all of Santa Cruz United tabler's were volunteers.

"Our tablers are 100% volunteers, and I know that because I organize them and assign them," Polhamus wrote.

Polhamus also stated in that post to Councilmember Glover in August that Santa Cruz United was taking "seriously" a report about bad behavior by aggressive recall signature gatherers at Whole Foods

In public statements made on social media on September 11, following the detainment of the canvasser at Whole Foods, Polhamus claimed the incident was staged, and called the initial article published on Indybay about it, "fake news".

Polhamus explained, "I have been tabling at Whole Foods myself every week for eight weeks, almost on a daily basis. If there was a problem I am sure the management, who I have come to know pretty well, would have mentioned it."

When asked if the canvasser in the video was paid to gather recall petition signatures, Polhamus stated, "I help staff the tables with volunteers, as I said to Drew Glover, and I am often at the table with the volunteers. I have hired no one. I have paid no one. I am not paid, I am a volunteer."

When pressed on the issue of paid signature gatherers, Polhamus refused to comment further.

On September 17, the canvasser detained at Whole Foods in the above video was seen collecting signatures again for Santa Cruz United at Trader Joe's in downtown Santa Cruz.

The "Father"

The "Son"

Santa Cruz United Canvasser Detained by Police at Whole Foods Market on September 10

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Demonstrators Keep the Restrooms Open at Louden Nelson Center

Demonstrators staged sit-ins in the men's and women's restrooms at Louden Nelson Center in Santa Cruz on September 3, effectively keeping the facilities open to the public for an extended period of time. Once open to all, the Louden Nelson restrooms have been closed to the public since 2018, which staff claims is due to complaints of vandalism and drug use. To enter the restrooms, a person must either be a patron or customer of the center, and punch in an electronic pass-code provided by the attendant at the front counter. Those at the demonstration were particularly concerned about the effects the restroom closures have had on homeless residents in the area, who often congregate in the park adjacent to the Louden Nelson Center where there are no other services.

During the demonstration today, Rabbi Philip Posner occupies the men's restroom at Louden Nelson Center in order to keep it open to the public

Demonstrators were able to gain entry to the restrooms during the senior lunch service, when the doors are sometimes left open. They expected that attendants would arrive and lock the facilities back up after the luncheon was over, but that did not occur, and the public was allowed to enter the restrooms freely while demonstrators sat quietly by.

Gloria Rovay, who occupied the women's restroom for quite some time, noted that there were six stalls in that bathroom. She said that they would not see the same use now that the restrooms are being locked.

"This place has been around for a long time," Rovay said. "This is a community center. What has changed?"

Rovay said she believes the closure of the restrooms was motivated by a segment of the community that does not want to see or interact with homeless people.

"You can't cut out a piece of society," she said. "They don't want to see them anywhere."

As for reports of drug use, vandalism, and needle litter in the Louden Nelson Center, Rovay said the damage could have been done by anyone, and wondered how the center's staff knew it was from homeless people or drug users. She thinks that requiring members of the public to sign in at the front desk in order to gain access to the restroom code could be a quick and easy fix to the problem, as opposed to going to the trouble and expense of hiring bathroom attendants, which has been proposed by some in the community.

Rovay also thinks that public drug use has been on the increase downtown due to the remote location of the local needle exchange, which is presently operating out of the County Health Center. Rovay thinks there should be syringe services downtown, which would reduce the number of discarded needles.

Sharps disposal kiosks would also help reduce needle litter at the Louden Nelson Center, she said.

Gloria Rovay Occupies the Women's Restroom at the Louden Nelson Center

Rabbi Philip Posner Points to the 'Illegal Activity' Sign on the Men's Restroom Door

Louden Nelson Community Center Rules of Conduct

Literature Displayed by Demonstrators

Friday, February 8, 2019

Rest in Peace Sherry Conable

In shocking news to the Santa Cruz activist community, Sherry Conable was identified as the woman found dead on Cowell Beach on the morning of February 4. Sherry participated in and organized countless political demonstrations and anti-war events over the course of decades in the Santa Cruz area. She will be dearly missed.

Sherry holds her iconic peace wreath at a demonstration at the Santa Cruz City Council in March of 2015 to protest the SCPD purchase of a Bearcat vehicle.

According to early media reports, the cause of her death has yet to be determined.

Independence Day 2014, Ocean Street, Santa Cruz.

Independence Day 2016, Ocean Street Santa Cruz

Sherry speaking to protest the SCPD purchase of a Bearcat vehicle in front of City Hall in February of 2015.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Community Survival Camp Established at Santa Cruz Post Office

In response to the planned closure of the River Street homeless campground, community members in Santa Cruz have established a survival camp at the downtown post office. At 11pm on November 15, nearly two dozen individuals had set up spaces to sleep along the sidewalk in front of the large postal building, which is a landmark downtown. "Please join us for a peaceful night's sleep while celebrating the constitution and supporting the human right to sleep. Everyone is welcome, whether you have a home or not," an event announcement for establishment of the survival camp read.

Earlier in the day on November 15, the City of Santa Cruz announced the closure of five parks due to fire danger, including Pogonip, Arana Gulch, Moore Creek, DeLaveaga, and Arroyo Seco. These latest park closures in Santa Cruz follow the closures of San Lorenzo and Grant Street Parks in October, which were literally fenced off from the public for "public safety" reasons, according to the city. Additionally, the city has closed the restrooms at San Lorenzo Park for much of 2018, and permantly restricted the public's access to the restroom at Louden Nelson Center/Laurel Park.

City policy hast left homeless individuals continuing to be shuffled around the greenbelt. Homeless encampments have swelled around the city, including a new camp between Gateway Plaza and Highway 1, and some camping on Santa Cruz Main Beach.

One reason community members decided to establish a survival camp at the downtown post office is due to the recent decision by postal officals to construct a permanent fence around the building. That decision was in part to prevent community members from sleeping in the landscaping, but also to discourage Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs from sharing meals there, which the group has done since 2012. The permanent fence was installed in October of this year, and a huge number of "no trespassing" signs have been plastered along its length. A temporary fence had been in place since March of 2017.

The River Street Campground, which is funded and operated entirely by the city, opened in February of this year after authorities dispersed a large homeless encampment that had developed at San Lorenzo Park between 2017 and 2018. The cost to operate the campground was estimated by the city to be $90,000 a month, for an average of 50-60 guests per day.

It is unclear how long individuals will camp at the post office. Robert Norse, of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), said the group may decide to sleep at other locations.

The establishment of a community survival camp in Santa Cruz has been endorsed by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, End Solitary Santa Cruz County, WILPF - Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Santa Cruz, WRAP - Western Regional Advocacy Project, Santa Cruz Code Pink, Conscience in Action, Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs, HUFF, Homeless Depot, HomeFree, and The Freedom Sleepers.

The Santa Cruz Post Office

 Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs and Robert Norse of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom

Friday, November 16, 2018

City of Santa Cruz Announces Park Closures

Due to a recent string of "suspicious" fires, the City of Santa Cruz announced on November 15 the closure of the following parks: Pogonip, Arana Gulch, Moore Creek, DeLaveaga, and Arroyo Seco. "Police and Fire Investigators have aggressively investigated every fire, which has resulted in five arrests in the past four weeks," a press release from the city states. The parks will be closed indefinitely.

The Rincon Fire

While police have arrested at least two individuals specifically for arson, a press release issued by Cal Fire on November 9 charges that some of the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains originated from "illegal campsites."

The Rincon Fire has been the largest of the recent fires in the area, burning 17 wooded acres and coming very close to homes in the Paradise Park area along Highway 9.

The homeless community has received some backlash from individuals on social media. Some of the comments have been preserved by the group "Take Back Santa Cruz from TBSC" on their Facebook page. One called those involved with the recent incidents, "tweakers with fire".

City policy leaves homeless individuals continuing to be shuffled around the greenbelt. These latest park closures in Santa Cruz follow the closures of San Lorenzo and Grant Street Parks in October. As a result, homeless encampments have swelled around the city, including a new camp between Gateway Plaza and Highway 1, and some camping on Santa Cruz Main Beach.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the Rincon Fire

The Pogonip Fire on November 13

Monday, March 13, 2017

Downtown Streets Blocked in Santa Cruz During International Women's Day Strike

On March 8, striking community members marched through downtown Santa Cruz in solidarity with Women's Strikes organized around the world on International Women's Day as a follow up to the massive Women's Marches held on January 21, 2017, the day after the Inauguration of Trump.

One group participating in the March 8 demonstration was the UCSC March Collective, who invited the public to join in the call for solidarity with, "women, trans and queer people, muslims, immigrants, people of color, sex workers, survivors of violence, currently and formerly incarcerated people, and oppressed people everywhere." The march collective invited people of all genders to join the action, stating in an event announcement that, "We strike because we can't afford not to care."

Multiple events were planned for International Women's Day in Santa Cruz. The downtown march began at Louden Nelson Center and made its way to the Santa Cruz Town Clock where speakers were heard in front of the clock and in the street, where many of the participants held space at the big intersection at Water and Pacific.

Streets were blocked for nearly an hour and a half, during which time several frustrated drivers exchanged angry words with the demonstrators. To divert traffic, police set up one road block on Water Street, but left the other streets unattended.

Instead of using police resources to direct traffic away from the demonstration and ensure public safety, the department instead chose to direct officers to monitor the event from multiple locations. One officer was stationed on top of the hill above the clock tower, and appeared to be video recording demonstrators who were blocking streets. One officer monitoring the demonstration was parked on Front Street, some distance away from the action.

As a result, one man attempted to drive through the demonstration with his large truck. A group immediately surrounded the man's vehicle to prevent him from plowing through people. They kept him at bay for nearly a half an hour while he revved his truck's engine, periodically lurching the vehicle forward inches a time, and dangerously wedging further into the mass of people.

Looking to report the man in the truck, a number of individuals who felt physically threatened walked over to the one location on Water Street where police were directing traffic. Eventually demonstrators were able to convince the man to turn his vehicle around. After he drove away police followed him, catching up to him one block away.

Santa Cruz Police Lieutenant Christian LeMoss spoke with the driver while two other officers with the department surrounded the truck to protect the man. Though there were no "protesters" in sight, and only one other photographer on the street in addition to this reporter, one of the officers kept his hand placed on his gun, while the other prominently displayed a long billy club at his side.

The driver of the truck was neither arrested or cited.

LeMoss spoke to the man from the passenger side of the vehicle, on which the phrase "I am a Racist" had been etched onto the truck's door. A report airing on KSBW later in the evening on March 8 stated that police were still investigating an incident of vandalism to a vehicle that occurred during the demonstration, however the report did not identify the make of the vehicle, or any further details.

The first observance of Women's Day was organized on February 28, 1909 in New York by the Socialist Party of America. The holiday was mostly celebrated in communist countries and by international socialist movements until it was officially adopted by the United Nations in 1975.

An event announcement for the Santa Cruz Women's Strike explained the background for the action:

"Following the January 21st Women’s March against Trump, the largest single protest in U.S. history, women in over 30 different countries have called for an International Women’s Strike -- a Day Without A Woman -- on March 8th, 2017, International Women’s Day.

"March 8th will be a day of action organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism, and who are further threatened by Trump and his misogynist, racist policies. We call for solidarity with trans and queer people, Muslims, immigrants, people of color, sex workers, survivors of violence, currently and formerly incarcerated people, and oppressed people everywhere. We invite people of all genders to join in.

"We demand an end to gender violence, and that rapists and sexual harassers be held accountable. We demand an end to ICE raids and deportations in our communities. We demand an end to police brutality. We demand free healthcare for all, including full access to reproductive and gender-affirming care. We demand free, community-centered child care and elder care. We demand full and free access to education. We demand affordable housing and a living wage.

"Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right they have given confidence to, we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism. This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement. We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.

"On March 8th, we call on people of all genders to pledge to go on strike, to refuse work and school, and to join us in building a new international feminist movement that fights not only against Trump, but against the conditions that produced Trump -- racial and sexual violence, environmental destruction, imperial wars abroad, and an economic system that puts profit before people. The only way we can move forward is together."

Ernestina Saldaña of the group Sanctuary Santa Cruz speaks

Reverend Deborah Johnson of Inner Light Ministries speaks

A Santa Cruz police officer appeared to be recording the demonstration from Mission Hill

A Santa Cruz police officer monitors the demonstration from Front Street

The driver who attempted to plow his truck through the group of people

Police speak with the driver of the truck