Ground Hog Day predictions

5 Nov

Here we are, Second Tuesday – council meeting tonight. I keep getting the weirdest sense of Deja-vu – am I using that correctly? I mean, I feel like this town just keeps circling around the same carcass – “Sit and Lie”.

Everybody loved that movie with Bill Murray, Ground Hog Day, where he wakes up every day, stuck in time, doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. You thought that was just a movie, didn’t you?

The news stories they’ve done, both print and broadcast, have been almost word for word repeats of stories run in August. The council hashed over this ordinance in a well-attended meeting and threw it out, too many problems. I thought it was weird at the time that Chief Trostle seemed kinda wishy-washy. The police department had been asking for the ordinance, but Trostle wasn’t very enthusiastic about presenting it. I realize now, he didn’t like the ordinance as written.

This newer version adds specifics regarding “sitting”, and drops the provision requiring a warning before arrest. That’s what they wanted for the Disorderly Events ordinance, permission to cite people for disturbing the peace without the usual number of complaints, without any signed complaint, and without any warning.  The cops are also pushing a “Social Host” ordinance that likewise circumvents due process, allowing cops, fire or hospitals, etc, to bill the owner of a property who didn’t even know his tenants were having a party. Now they want to be able to arrest people for sitting on any sidewalk for any reason short of a medical emergency or a parade without giving them any sort of head’s up before they start slapping the cuffs on. Hmmmm.

First of all, like Randall Stone says, why have another ordinance when you can’t enforce the laws that are on the books? I wonder if Stone read the same article I saw in the News and Review, describing the citing of a man for sitting on a sidewalk  too close to the crosswalk.

The city code includes very specific rules about where panhandlers are allowed to ask the public for money, as well as where anyone is allowed to sit. The “aggressive panhandling” ordinance has been on the books for almost exactly 10 years, but until now,  it’s rarely been enforced. The N&R article covered officer Peter Durfee’s recent attempts to enforce this law, and I had to wonder, “why just now?”

Last week, as I was doing some errands,  I saw officers in various parts of town rousting people who looked like transients – shopping carts, bed rolls, blue tarps and blankets.  First I encountered a team of Chico PD rounding up belongings and throwing away trash from a parking lot Downtown, right near Christian Michaels.  Then I saw a few squad cars rousting people over on the 20th Street overpass. I realized, they been camping in those bushes in the medians around the off-ramps, behind Petco.  I always wondered about that, having seen the kind of trash that indicates Hobo Camp.  Once I even saw one bold fellow camping, bright blue tarp staked out for a tent,  with his shopping cart full of bagged recyclables siting next to it, in a field laying along the west side of 99.

Camping is prohibited pretty much anywhere but registered camp grounds.  Neither the police or park employees have enforced the camping law for a year or so now.  I watched the Mangrove Plaza turn into some kind of homeless center, with the US Post Office buildings serving as a make-shift outdoor shelter area. People who live along the freeway have told me they see transients camping along the freeway at night, even with the widening going on.

But now suddenly the cops are rousting them? This is because of pressure they are feeling from the public complaints, and now the private security force that’s been hired Downtown. The cops are negotiating their contracts right now, which are up in January. They are finally realizing, their critics are starting to outweigh their supporters.

I don’t know why they need a more aggressive law to get rid of this bad case of fleas. We already have laws that allow these folks to be cited for the very offenses that citizens are complaining about.  If they fail to appear or pay the penalty, the cops can arrest them without warning and they go to jail. Sit/Lie seems like a quicker rout to incarceration, but is that really the answer? Take them off the streets and stuff them into our over-crowded jails? Wake up – it will happen here just like it happens in San Francisco, where the bum that was arrested two hours ago, swearing at your customers while seated in a puddle of his own urine, is right back in front of your store, swearing at your customers while seated in a puddle of his own urine.

At least Phil the Weatherman finds his way out of his Ground Hog Day. Here’s my prediction for Chico: Whether or not they pass Sit/Lie, this idiot council will sign the cop contracts, giving them raises as well as leaving completely untouched their fully paid benefits and pension.

And around and around she goes, where she stops, noooooobody knows!

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