FRIDAY: The San Diego Library Area Manager just called Frank Gormlie and apologized for what happened on Wednesday. Bob Cronk personally thanked Gormlie for his and the OB Rag’s support of the library over the years and said on behalf of the staff, he was sorry. He had seen the article in the Rag – thanks to Matt Beatty – and had taken serious note of the situation.
Bob did note that the library staff had just had a week or so ago a very ugly incident where an inebriated guy caused a scene and some damage. Both Cronk and Gormlie agreed that even though things like that happen, the staff can’t paint everyone with a broad brush stroke in our diverse and tolerant community.
Gormlie and Cronk also spoke about the need for at least a bench out in front of the library. Bob would run the idea up the chain of command and Gormlie said he would see if folks around town would help donate for a bench. “Maybe instead of a ‘Read-In’ in front of the library, we could organize a bench.”
A funny thing happened to the OB Rag Editordude yesterday as he sat on the green grassy lawn of the Ocean Beach Library reading a magazine, sipping from a coffee cup and waiting for a ride home.
He was kicked off.
Accused of “loitering” and “drinking alcohol” by private security and library staff, Frank Gormlie – who edits this website – was ordered off the lawn and out from the front of the library.
After lodging a protest and trying to reason with the security agent and staff to no avail, Gormlie left the immediate grassy area, and a few minutes later, departed when his ride appeared.
Here, in his own words, is what he reported happening:
After having left my car at a local auto shop to get repaired, I packed up what I needed from my PT Cruiser in my backpack, and took off for Newport Avenue. I needed to kill some time until my ride arrived in a few hours.
I met with friends at that Cuban coffee and pastry shop, toured the new Cohn family restaurant about to open on Newport – “The Warehouse” – (the old Portugalia), ate lunch at OB’s greasy spoon, drank more coffee, and decided to wait for my ride over in front of the library.
Grabbing a CityBeat and after finding a dry spot, I sat down on the grass in front of the library. I was reading the magazine and sipping my coffee – I was getting absorbed in its stories.
Five minutes later, I’m startled by this guy in a uniform – I could tell he wasn’t a police officer or law enforcement, but a private security guy. He asks me if I intend to patronize the library and I say no.
He then says I can’t sit on the grass as I’m loitering, and have to get up. Wow, this is preposterous I thought. I tried to explain that I’ve attended book sales by the library support committee on the grass, that I’ve organized rallies to save the library on the grass. He told me his name was Brown. Mr. Brown wasn’t listening.
I got up and feeling fairly upset, I proceeded inside the library, asked for the main librarian and once he identified himself – Matt Beatty – I tried to make a complaint about being kicked off the grass. Beatty then says that I can’t drink alcohol in front of the library. Alcohol? Do you see any alcohol I asked? This is the first time this reason had come up. So, not only was I accused of loitering but now drinking alcohol.
Brown, Beatty and I proceed outside – I’m upset and still protesting this insult. “I’m a citizen! I’m a patron of this library.” I said. “You can’t drink alcohol in front of the library,” Beatty kept repeating and then returned inside.
Brown said he saw me drinking a can of beer while he was looking through a window. I asked him where was the can? He didn’t know, but he saw me with one. I asked him if it was even possible that he could be incorrect. He said no. I even asked for an apology – but was refused.
My ride appeared and still fuming, I left.
It was such an insult. Did they think I was a homeless guy? I did have a backpack and a cloth brief case. I do have a ponytail but so did the judge I appeared in front of on Monday – hey, I’m a lawyer. Plus I was reading. That’s what you’re supposed to do at a library – read. I didn’t go inside to read because you can’t go in with a coffee cup.
You know, I’ve done as much as anyone else in this community to keep the OB Library doors open. The OB Rag organized several rallies in front of the library when it was being threatened with Mayor Sanders’ draconian budget cuts. I know that doesn’t make me entitled to special treatment. I’m not complaining about that. And I know I wasn’t kicked off the lawn because I’m with the OB Rag either.
Still, it’s still a shame that someone reading on the lawn in front of the library has to be removed. We’re letting our fear of the homeless push us to deny others common civilities that we ordinarily would allow or tolerate. Like getting kicked off the grass, or having no benches in front of the library. Why aren’t there benches in front of the OB Library?
I’m gonna complain to my councilman. Oh, wait. He just got elected mayor. Whose gonna replace him?
Back on track, Gormlie has raised several issues here.
One, the issue of “loitering”. He was accused of loitering by the private security guard.
There is a small sign on the exterior wall of the library on its Santa Monica Avenue side. It cites San Diego Municipal Code section 52.30.2. This refers to Chapter 5, Article 2, Division 30 of the Muni Code. This is the Public Safety and morals and welfare area of the code.
Article 2: Police — Police Regulations — Offenses Against Government
Division 30: Loitering For Drug Activities
§52.3001 Acts Prohibited
It is unlawful for any person to loiter in, on or near any thoroughfare or place open to the public or near any public or private place in a manner and under circumstances manifesting the purpose of engaging in drug–related activity defined as offenses in Chapters 6 and 6.5 of Division 10 of the California Health and Safety Code.
§52.3002 Circumstances Manifesting Drug–related Activity
This section deals with all kinds of activities that are associated with drug dealing and begins:
Among circumstances that may be considered in determining whether such purpose is manifested are that the person:
And then it gets into qualifications, such as “(a) is a known unlawful drug user, possessor, or seller. …” Then it defines what a known seller is, such as” (3) a person who displays physical characteristics of drug intoxication or usage, such as “needle tracks”;…” and so forth.It does continue:
As used in this Division, the following definitions apply:
(a) “in a manner and under circumstances manifesting” means that, while loitering a person must perform objectively, ascertainable, overt conduct that is commonly associated with illegal drug–related activity.
(b) “purpose of engaging in drug–related activity” means the specific intent to engage in drug–related activity.
It does not define “loitering” however.
We have to turn to other sources then. What exactly is “loitering”? You see “no loitering” sides in all kinds of places. According to Webster’s:
Loiter - 1. To delay an activity with aimless idle stops and pauses; 2. to remain in an area for no obvious reason; hang around; to lag behind.
Yet we are talking about the law here. Black’s Law Dictionary – the lawyer’s bible – says:
Loiter – To be dilatory; to be slow in movement; to stand around or move slowly about; to stand idly around; to lag behind; to linger or spend time idly. Traditionally includes acts constituting vagrancy and as such, many ordinances have been struck as unconstitutionally vague.
Term as used in statute prohibiting loitering or prowling upon the private property of another, means to be slow in moving, to delay, to linger, to saunter, to lag behind. [Our underlining for emphasis.]
Now Gormlie denies doing any of the drug-related activities, other than sipping coffee (caffeine is a highly potent drug). Plus he says he was reading. We can’t see where he can be justifiably accused of actual loitering. Perhaps he was mistaken for a homeless guy – he had a backpack and other carrying satchel, he has long hair. But then – so what?
Not to mention the unconstitutionality of many “no loitering” ordinances. (See this interesting 1988 legal Memo by then San Diego City Attorney John W. Witt on the issue.)
Another issue raised is the lack of benches in front of the OB Library. Yes, why isn’t there at least one bench. The reason Gormlie sat on the grass to read is because there aren’t any benches.
Gormlie doesn’t care that he was mistaken for a homeless person. But, far from being homeless, he insists that he had just spent close to $200 in OB businesses – $150 for a car repair, then lunch, pastries and coffees.
But he also raises the issue of society’s fear of the homeless. We fear the homeless so much that we don’t have benches or other street furniture out of fear that they will abuse them. That’s why those benches have ridges or even separate seats – or no seats at all. We are denying to ourselves the common civilities that we ought to be sharing with our fellow citizens, homeless or not.