Friday, June 28, 2013

First Alarm Security Guards Profile and Stalk San Lorenzo Park Users

As a group of approximately one dozen Santa Cruz community members sat in the shade of a tree overlooking the San Lorenzo Park benchlands on the warm afternoon of June 19, a security guard from First Alarm stood nearby them watching every move they made. One of the community members subjected to the close and extended scrutiny said he was cited for being in possession of an open container that was not his, and he thought the initial contact with authorities was due to their perception he was still on probation, and that he would be violating his terms of release if caught doing something wrong.

A security guard watches San Lorenzo Park users from approximately 30 feet away, using the pedestrian bridge as cover.

The individual cited said he was not on probation and he was unknowingly sitting near the beer bottle when a security guard with First Alarm spotted it during one of several on-foot sweeps made directly through the group of park users that day. Those in the group said the bottle was nestled inside of a drink holder that masked its markings from plain view, and they thought it was left behind by someone not present at the time of the security guard's arrival. They said the First Alarm guard then called the Santa Cruz Police Department who arrived quickly and cited the individual, telling him that his proximity to the bottle indicated his 'possession' of it. After the police officer left, the First Alarm guard continued to watch the group carefully for an extended period of time, even though the area surrounding them appeared clean and devoid of anything resembling an alcohol container.

Those targeted by security in San Lorenzo Park that day said their free use of the area has been inhibited due to this type of profiling by First Alarm, where guards informally 'identify' individuals they perceive to be on probation, or more generally, individuals they perceive to be undesirable for a variety of other reasons.

They say that guards have developed a routine of walking directly through groups of park users identified as problematic. This is done multiple times during the day, and during the process their possessions are visually inspected at close range. First Alarm guards also stand and watch park users for long periods of time from nearby locations.

In addition to staring and sometimes glaring at them, individuals say the guard who was watching them that day has also previously attempted to intimidate their group by waving his metal baton/billy club at them, and by putting on his gloves in an exaggerated manner for no apparent reason.

When asked if another group of park users who were sitting in the benchlands area was also being closely watched by the security guards, they said yes, but the walk-throughs weren't as frequent.

San Lorenzo Park Users Watched by Security
First Alarm Security Guard Watches San Lorenzo Park Users.

San Lorenzo Park users say this guard glares at them and attempted to intimidate their group by waving his metal baton/billy club at them, and by putting on his gloves in an exaggerated manner for no apparent reason.

The individual in the black shirt says that he was sitting at this distance from the yellow drink container when he was unfairly cited for possession of an open container. He said that none of the belongings were his.

After noticing he was being photographed, the First Alarm guard attempted to watch the group of park users from a more 'discrete' location, but still kept turning away when the camera was pointed in his direction.

First Alarm guard continues to attempt to evade the camera as he meets with other guards.

San Lorenzo Park Benchlands.

This group was also the subject of close attention from First Alarm.

At the same time the individual was being cited for the open container, across the banks of the San Lorenzo River along the levee trail, another First Alarm security guard (see photo) sat in a patrol vehicle watching a small group of people who were sitting under the shade of a tree on the retaining wall that lines River Street. As the guard sat watching this group, his patrol vehicle blocked a segment of the San Lorenzo Riverway trail, and bicyclists had to slow down and take care to maneuver around it safely. 

First Alarm watches a group on the San Lorenzo Riverway along River Street
A bicyclist squeezes by as a First Alarm guard watches a group of San Lorenzo Riverway users.

Shortly before that, Santa Cruz Police Department Officer Hoppe (see photo) patrolling the San Lorenzo Riverway on a bicycle, told an African American man that the the area where he was sitting was, "not a sitting path." Officer Hoppe then told the individual to move off the paved portion of the trailway if he wanted to sit down. The man had been protruding approximately one or two feet onto the path when the officer encountered him, and as soon as Hoppe left, the man resumed sitting on the path.

SCPD Officer Hoppe tells man, "This is not a sitting path"

There is no signage along the San Lorenzo Riverway trail that indicates sitting is not allowed on or near the path. On the contrary, a welcome sign that is posted at one of the entrances to the trail system states, "Prevent Erosion by Staying on the Path," though the sign is hard to read due to its physical condition.

Trail users may also remember the "Area Temporarily Closed" signs that lined the San Lorenzo Riverway for the better part of the last year that made it a citable offense to veer off of the trail past a certain point. Those signs were installed in July of 2012 every 50 feet or so along several miles of the river levee, making the shoreline and banks of the entire downtown length of the San Lorenzo River inaccessible for any reason until recently.

Most of the signs have been removed, and the only remaining "Area Temporarily Closed" signs are presently located along the levee trail near the rear of businesses located on Front Street.

Signs that say "Alcohol Prohibited" and "No Camping" are posted at several of the trail entrances and on some utility structures.

The practice of security guards positioning themselves close to groups of individuals to monitor park users' behavior closely and for extended periods of time has been in effect since as early as 2011.

More recently, San Lorenzo Park users have reported an increase in harassment by security guards, park rangers, and SCPD officers since the summer of 2012 when a period of intensive homeless sweeps were initiated by the SCPD and the City of Santa Cruz's Department of Parks and Recreation. The installation of "Area Temporarily Closed" signs every 50 feet along the river levee coincided with these sweeps.

Now that the signs are gone, park users have made a very visible return to their normal enjoyment of the banks of the river.

Note to readers:

I received the following email from an associate of mine who lives near the San Lorenzo River and walks the levee regularly, shortly after publishing the article, "City Installs 'Do Not Enter' Signs Around Entire Downtown Segment of San Lorenzo River" to Indybay in 2012 (see:

The email read:

"On August 9th [of 2012], shortly after the vegetation clearing began and apparently shortly before the signs went up, I was threatened quite aggressively by a First Alarm agent while cautiously approaching a great blue heron below the levee. I appreciate his personal respect for wildlife, but if he thought that I was going to frighten the bird by crouching quietly, I wonder what effect he imagined that shouting commands at us would have... As I gaped up at him for a few moments, dumbstruck and disappointed (never having before been threatened for something so benign as birdwatching), he rapidly increased his hostility, shouting that he would momentarily call the SCPD, citing a municipal trespassing code. This was all in the course of about 10 seconds, and felt very unfriendly and unpleasant.

"When I approached to question him, he was fairly quick to revert to friendly conversation. Maybe because of my lack of hostility, maybe because my appearance is edge case drifter/yuppie. I asked about the willow clearing, and he assured me that the removal of such habitat has had a positive impact on the birds, by flushing out "the transients and their bongos." He claimed that the official purpose of this clearing was for irrigation reasons (??), but proudly revealed that the the true purpose was in fact to remove these undesirables. He then showed me his log-sheet, an intimidating grid of what must have been at least four or five dozen law citations, each with a tally box. He said he'd turn this in to the PD at the end of his shift. There were about a dozen tallies for the trespassing code, several for alcohol, and a few others scattered about the other codes. Several cyclists dismounted to navigate around the First Alarm truck, which he'd parked on the narrow underpass ramp. An older man walking his dog stopped to also express his dismay at the vegetation removal. I said goodbye and departed on the pavement. The heron was long gone."

San Lorenzo Riverway.
The welcome sign that is posted at one of the entrances to the trail system states, "Prevent Erosion by Staying on the Path."

Businesses along Front Street line the San Lorenzo River levee.

Enjoying the San Lorenzo River now that it is open again

Monday, June 17, 2013

Workers Still Protest One Year After Sam Grossman's Take-Over of La Playa Carmel

On June 7, former workers and community members marched at La Playa Carmel to protest the first year of Sam Grossman's ownership of the hotel. The unionized workers were laid off when the Carmel-by-the-Sea hotel closed in 2011, and since its reopening under Grossman's management, only three of the former 113 workers have been rehired. To those at the demonstration, Grossman's decision not to re-hire the workers has been seen as a union-busting attempt which has not worked. They feel that as a result of the demonstrations in Carmel their negotiations with other establishments in the area have benefited, which has further strengthened their resolve to not quit the battle with La Playa's management.

At the end of the rally on June 7, a former La Playa worker named Ramon, who has attended the demonstrations outside of the hotel regularly, said, "I worked here for 22 years and I have some co-workers who worked here for more than 30 years, and it is not fair that they just fired us like that. Thank you for supporting us to continue our fight." 

Former La Playa Hotel server Shirley Smith was quoted in a press release for the demonstration as saying, "One year after the reopening that dashed our hopes, we are still fighting for justice at La Playa. We won't quit." 

Over half of the 113 former workers at La Playa had worked there for 20 years or more. They are members of Unite Here Local 483, the labor union that has represented hotel, restaurant, and other hospitality workers in the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas since 1937. Those working at La Playa had benefited from a union contract for over 40 years until the hotel closed for a $3.5 million remodeling project undertaken by Grossman, which wrapped up in the summer of 2012. 

After their initial attempts to secure first rights of refusal for the former workers when re-applying for jobs at the hotel were unsuccessful, and only two of 113 were re-hired at the time of the hotel's re-opening, Unite Here Local 483 and the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council announced a boycott of the hotel in July of 2012. Since that time, former workers have continued to apply for job openings as they become available, but very few have been called back for interviews.

"A year ago this company had their first chance to do the right thing, right? They could have rehired all the former workers. That was the first of many chances the company had to rehire the former workers who have continued to apply over the past year and most of who have not received an interview," said Lizzy Keegan, of Unite Here. 

"Do you think that this company expected when they didn't rehire people that people would continue to come back and demand their jobs?" she asked the group. 

"No!" the group at the rally answered in unison. 

When Unite Here's Mark Weller spoke on June 7, he emphasized that demonstrators were going to, "be here for years if we have to." 

The current rates for rooms at La Playa are between $300 and $500 for weekdays, and between$450 and $650 for weekends, and former workers and community members alike have continued to wonder why a return to the workers' union contract couldn't be figured into that price-point. 

During the time period that demonstrations at La Playa have occurred, Unite Here Local 483 has been successful in a number of labor negotiations with other establishments nearby. 

In September of 2012, the union negotiated directly with the local management at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to improve contracts which cover 40 cooks, dishwashers, servers, hosts, greens workers, and maintenance and hotel workers. The new contract calls for more than $5 per hour in additional wages and benefits over the life of the agreement, as well as providing job protections in the event the resort sells to a new owner. Additional benefit improvements at Quail Lodge now include employer contribution increases to employee health insurance and pension plans, as well as additional paid holidays and sick leave. 

At Monterey Beach Resort, Local 483 union members met April 18, 2013 to approve a contract through September 2014, which covers 90 workers, including housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, hosts, servers, bartenders, gardeners, groundskeepers, maintenance, laundry, banquet, and front desk workers. The agreement was made with the hotel’s owner, Southwest Value Partners, headquartered in San Diego. 

On April 25, 2013 a new contract with the Old Capital Club was approved by Local 483 members, and it covers five workers through 2015. The Old Capital Club is a 58 year-old private club on Polk Street in downtown Monterey. 

Three dozen demonstrations have been held at La Playa since the workers lost their jobs, and at the June 7 rally, Lizzy Keegan said that it was not a disappointment they were still protesting at the hotel because, "they created some amazing fighters out of the former La Playa workers," and as a result, the labor struggle had, "brought all of us together." 

Demonstrations at La Playa have been well attended, and have involved a wide range of political organizations local to Monterey County. Present at the demonstration on June 7th were members representing organizations that included Women's National League for Peace and Freedom, Peace Coalition of Monterey County, Move to Amend Alliance of Monterey County, Land Watch, California Alliance of Retired Americans, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Green Party of Monterey County, Monterey County Democrats, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), two different student groups from California State Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Occupy Monterey Peninsula, Peace and Justice Center, and the Prunedale Neighbors. 

"What Lizzy said about this community coming together here is so important, and We're going to keep coming back and this is going only to continue to make us stronger. We will win here eventually," Monterey City Council member Alan Haffa said during the rally. 

Haffa and Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker were both at the rally on June 7th, and the two of them have shown their dedication to the former workers by each attending dozens of demonstrations at the hotel. 

In June of 2012 the former workers sent petitions to La Playa Carmel's management with the signatures of over 1000 Monterey County residents demanding the former workers be rehired. 

The demonstrations have been energetic and well attended and as a result, individuals have face a lot of pressure to leave from the hotel's management as well as the Carmel Police Department. 

In addition to hiring a camera person to video tape two entire demonstrations in 2012, La Playa management has monitored nearly every one of the evening demonstrations at the hotel with a sound decibel meter since November 1, 2012. Many demonstrators when first arriving mistakenly get the impression the hotel is using an audio recording device on them. Additionally, the Carmel police themselves used a decibel meter to monitor sound levels outside of the hotel's lobby during one demonstration in February of 2013. 

Carmel Police officer speaks with staff/security

Staff/security carrying sound meter

Sound meter placed on retaining wall

Sound meter placed behind Unite Here Local 483 Treasurer, Leonard O'Neill

Carmel-by-the-Sea Police

At the June 7, 2013 rally, two different police squad cars arrived. When the first officer arrived and initially made contact with La Playa's staff, her first question was if any of the demonstrators had attempted to access the hotel property. 

On June 7 of 2012, demonstrators did attempt to access the hotel as a group in order to deliver the petitions they had gathered with signatures from local residents asking for the former workers to be rehired. La Playa's management called the police, who later arrested one individual for trespassing. The union has said that no one from the demonstrations has ever trespassed on the hotel's property. The charges that were filed against the one individual for trespassing were later dismissed in pretrial hearings. 

Friction from the police may have peaked in February of this year when, according to one individual from the union, authorities demanded that demonstrators leave the area on the sidewalks outside of the hotel due to the noise level, but they refused and continued to rally without incident. 

At the rally, Mark Weller listed some statistics the union gathered regarding the ongoing demonstrations at La Playa. Weller stated there have been: 

- 3 dozen protests at La Playa Carmel 
- 2000 protesters participating in the picket lines, marches, and demonstrations, including Unite Here members who work at establishments all over Monterey County 
- members from more than 2 dozen labor unions 
- 20 elected officials 
- 20 local community groups 
- only 1 protester arrested 
- more than 50 students 
- more than a dozen visits from Carmel police 
- organizers sent delegations for leafleting and protests to Phoenix and Laguna Beach, where Sam Grossman also own hotels 
- 5000 people searching for 'La Playa Carmel' on Google found the boycott website 
- 1000 community members from the Monterey Peninsula signed the petition that was sent to Sam Grossman and delivered to the hotel asking that they rehire the former workers 
- workers and supporters have spoken at 10 Carmel City Council meetings 
- 21 articles in local newspapers 
- customers have written on and other websites about the protests 
- the union can't count the number of times company CEO Matt Crow has lied to the Carmel Pine Cone newspaper 
- 4 union contracts signed in the last year with other local establishments without a fight 
- supporters have contributed thousands of dollars to the local 483 hotel worker relief fund that has helped several dozen laid off workers help pay their bills during hard times 

Monterey County Supervisor, Jane Parker

Monterey City Council Member, Alan Haffa

Sam Gross-Man Unfair!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rallying for Immigration Reform on May Day in Santa Cruz

This year on May Day, the Santa Cruz community rallied at the Town Clock in support of immigration reform.

Workers and community members joined individuals from the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and other AFL-CIO affiliated organizations for the rally, which included a strong turnrout by Unite Here local 483, the labor union that represents hotel, restaurant, and other hospitality workers in Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay Area. After rallying at the Town Clock, many in the group marched down Pacific Avenue to the Del Mar Theatre to view "Harvest of Empire" at the Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival.

Individuals held signs with messages such as "Citizenship Now," "I Work hard and Pay Taxes," "Keep Families Together," and "Citizenship, Because No Person is Second Class."

The Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism was also represented and food was provided in front of the Del Mar by Food Not Bombs Santa Cruz.

Keep Families Together

Citizenship - Because No Person is Second Class

May Day - International Workers Holiday

Members of Unite Here Local 483

Stop Deportations Now!
Legalizacion Ahora Para Todos!

Speaking out against gun violence

Police in front of Dell Williams

Del Mar Theatre

Ningun Se hermano es Ilegal! / No Human Being is Illegal!

Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs Santa Cruz