San Diego’s Disenfranchised Win One, Lose One at City Council

by on May 17, 2019 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights

By Doug Porter / Words&Deeds / May 15, 2019

Tuesday, May 15, should serve as a reminder of the strengths and weaknesses of the presently constituted San Diego City Council.

A non-binding resolution in support of a critical reform in law enforcement policy passed with unanimous support from Democrats. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news: An ordinance crafted amid an angry wave of protest about people without homes sleeping in vehicles split the liberal vote, once again proving some people’s empathy ends at their front door.

Our inability to deal with the collateral damage from the currently fashionable economic norms means public employees will be empowered to criminalize homelessness.

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council was asked to consider a non-binding resolution in support of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s AB 392, legislation redefining California’s standard for police use of force, changing it  from “reasonable” to “necessary.”

The Council ended up voting 6-2 in favor of the resolution. It was supported by all the Democrats and opposed by Republican Scott Sherman and newly declared Independent Mark Kersey. GOP Councilman Chris Cate was absent for the vote.

Two overflow rooms at San Diego City Hall were needed to accommodate the hundreds of people who came to support or oppose the resolution.

Nearly 120 public speakers spoke in support of the resolution, citing the need to hold police officers accountable for shooting unarmed citizens. The language before the council noted the 172 people killed by police in 2017, the last year data is available. Half of those killed were not brandishing a gun.

County Democratic Party Chair William Rodriguez Kennedy spoke in favor of the resolution, calling it a common sense initiative, noting as an ex-Marine he’d deployed to combat zones with more stringent use of force requirements. The local Democratic Party voted earlier to support Weber’s legislation.

The City Council’s decision came two weeks after the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose the bill. Supervisor Dianne Jacob called the bill divisive, saying it places an “unreasonable and unfair burden” on law enforcement officers by making them show proof their use of force was necessary.

The legislation, according to the Assemblywoman, prevents “unnecessary deaths” by “clarifying law enforcement’s obligations.”

She says the bill would push officers to rely on de-escalation techniques like verbal persuasion and crisis intervention methods instead of lethal force, which would better protect the lives of black and brown Californians who are disproportionately shot and killed by police.

Weber reintroduced the legislation, officially known as the California Act to Save Lives, with Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty. The two introduced a similar bill last year following an incident where two Sacramento police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man.

The officers were not charged for Clark’s death because the Sacramento County DA concluded they were legally justified in killing Clark, citing the officers’ statements saying they felt they were in imminent danger. The decision prompted public outcry and further inflamed the national conversation about police violence.

In 2018, the bill died after strong pressure from law enforcement agencies. This year, a newly tweaked version was passed by Assembly’s Public Safety Committee last month.

Next week the full Assembly is scheduled to vote on AB 392.

Calling the power of police to use deadly force “perhaps the most significant responsibility we confer on any public official,” Weber told a committee hearing last month the measure is intended “to once again address the critical issues we have faced in this nation for 400 years, of how we treat others who don’t look like us.”

Weber said cities that have implemented stricter use-of-force policies have seen a decrease in officer-involved shootings without negative consequences for officer and public safety. She also noted that the current California use-of-force standard hasn’t been updated since 1872.

Should the legislation get signed into law, law enforcement officers around the state would still be able to use deadly force in self-defense. They could, however, be held liable for homicide if an investigation finds they acted with criminal negligence or if their use of deadly force on a civilian was necessitated by the officer’s own actions.

Law enforcement groups from around California backed Senate Bill 230 as an alternative for legislators who were on the fence about the strictness of AB 392. Rather than change the state standard for lethal force the bill called for improved police training and required agencies to establish a policy providing clearly written use-of-force guidelines.

San Diego’s Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins negotiated a compromise, removing language in SB230 defining use of force procedures, while tying its passage to the success or failure of AB 392.

And now, the bad news…

Responding to a federal judge ruling last summer that a previous law prohibiting people from living in cars was too vague and a wave of complaints about homeless people flooding San Diego’s beach communities, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance banning the practice.

The vote was 6-3, with Democrats Jen Campbell, Barbara Bry, and Vivian Moreno joining Republicans Scott Sherman and Chris Cate, along with Independent Mark Kersey supporting the law.

People are now prohibited from living in a car at any time within 500 feet of a residence or a school. In other areas living in a car would be banned from 9pm to 6pm, when, in theory, shelter beds are available.

The reality is the city does not have facilities to accommodate its homeless, regardless of whether they’re sleeping in parks or in RVs. City Hall helped create the problem by allowing redevelopment of single occupancy hotels with little or no provisions for what happened to the people living in them.

And the underlying causes for homelessness, namely a failed safety net, are still to be addressed at a society-wide level. Passing an ordinance moving folks to places that don’t exist is not, despite Councilwoman Jen Campbell’s claim, not an act of love.

From the Union-Tribune:

  • “Fears, stereotypes and mis- and half-truths are a very poor basis for creating new law,” said Ann Menasche, a civil right lawyer with San Diego Housing Emergency Alliance.
  • Menasche said the law relies on those things to take away civil and constitutional rights from people with disabilities, seniors, students and low-income families — many of them minorities.
  • The law takes effect immediately because the council approved it as an emergency ordinance. Normally, ordinances require two approvals by the council and don’t take effect until 30 days after the second approval.

In searching for Will Kennedy Rodriguez’ comments on the use of force resolution, I found his thoughts on Facebook about the City Council’s other action. (Hey folks! We now have a party official willing to take a stand.)

This is totally worth sharing, and says it better than I could:

  • I couldn’t sleep last night. I am deeply disappointed in the cruelty of Council Members Jen Campbell, Barbara Bry, and Vivian Moreno.
  • It didn’t matter to them that they knew people affected by the struggle of homelessness, even in their own party’s leadership.
  • It didn’t matter that they approved a law that unfairly targets the most vulnerable population in our city.
  • It didn’t matter that the law they approved punishes people for a need which the city and its non-profit partners cannot fill right now. The last homeless count showed the minimum need for safe parking spaces was more than THREE TIMES what the city and its non-profit partners have available.
  • It didn’t matter that the majority of people who came to testify in support of the measure used the same language of fear and bigotry that was used to prevent Black, and Latinx people from entering white neighborhoods. It was as if the deepest most bigoted zombie denizens of Nextdoor animated themselves and found themselves at Nextdoor. One guy had the audacity to say that being homeless and living near the beach was a “privilege” in direct conflict with his property rights (as if the land he owns wasn’t stolen anyways).
  • My face hurt as I heard the most disgusting, bigoted, ignorant commentary I have ever heard at a city council meeting.
  • Contrast that to the pleas of the most vulnerable members of our community. Who came armed with data, and passion and begged the council not to enact an unconstitutional ordinance, who pleaded for their help and not their punishment.
  • I thought surely, these three council members would see what they were doing was not wrong.
  • I was wrong.
  • We have to have a serious conversation about justice, equity and accountability in our city and in our party because what I saw last night was not it.
  • In closing, a passage from the California Democratic Party platform on affordable housing. The official position of the Democratic Party:
  • “Encourage policies that provide direct shelter, job placement, and mental health services to those in need, **and oppose policies that harass and marginalize them. Individuals experiencing homelessness have the same right to dignity and respect as any Californian;**”
  • Yesterday’s vote by these three council members was not in keeping with the platform, or values of the Democratic Party.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar triggerfinger May 17, 2019 at 11:50 am

Sorry the elected leaders failed to tow your party line. Perhaps they heard their constituents loud and clear. It’s no coincidence that the beach councilmembers voted against this, as our beaches and parks are becoming refugee camps for every vandweller in the nation. I see vans on every block with out of state plates. These aren’t displaced people or families staying near their job or school. These are people on permanent vacation exploiting and squatting on our public spaces. The only people being displaced are the daily visitors that want to use the beaches and parks as intended.

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Avatar Chris May 17, 2019 at 6:25 pm

It’s only going to get worse as more and more people are unable to afford their rent. And not everyone has the means to just relocate. I understand stand the annoyance as I have to put with it on my block. But there is also the reality that anyone and everyone is vulnerable to the possibility it can happen to them. I don’t know what the solution is and fear there isn’t one.

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Avatar triggerfinger May 19, 2019 at 10:38 am

There are many places in this great nation with jobs and affordable rents. And many people live there responsibly. We’re dealing with an entitled bunch that would rather sponge off our public resources. You’re right though, if we continue to enable this behavior we are going to get many many more “refugees” relocating here.

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Avatar Chris May 19, 2019 at 5:57 pm

The majority homeless in San Diego are not transplants. None of this has anything to do with and “entitlement” mentality. I will be so bold to say that you don’t really believe that yourself.

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Avatar triggerfinger May 19, 2019 at 6:07 pm

I know the majority of homeless arent transplants.

I do believe the majority living out of their vehicles in OB are transplants. Hell half of them have out of state plates. And who knows what percentage of vehicles with CA plates came from outside SD. Only SDPD could tell you that

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Avatar Nick May 18, 2019 at 11:41 pm

There is already a law that makes it illegal to use deadly force. New words describing when deadly force can be used seems silly. Prosecuting police for misconduct and excessive use of force will likely have a bigger impact. Internal Affairs is a double standard, Internal Affairs is not a group of lawyers and don;t know if your civil rights have been violated. Internal Affairs is ruse to avert attention. The police chief was opposed to AB 392. What business does a public servant have deciding what rules we, the people, want? Do we work for him or was he hired to carry out orders? Did we hire a guy to tell us what to do?

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Avatar nostalgic May 20, 2019 at 11:39 am

What are the $$ numbers? One article says that the city gets $400,000,000 for affordable housing (or maybe twice that). So the people who used to be homeless and move there don’t count anymore. How much is provided to the city from local, state, and federal sources for homeless people? And we counted less than 6,000 heads. How much does this turn out to be per person? How much stays in comfortable offices creating powerpoint? None of the numbers provided tell us anything meaningful.

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Avatar Doug Porter May 21, 2019 at 10:48 am

The City of San Diego will spend $100 million this year on Homeless issues and services. Most of that money is directed toward short term fixes, like the big tents and storage facilities. Here’s a link to an explainer on the topic: https://www.nbcsandiego.com/on-air/as-seen-on/Where-Does-City-Funding-to-Help-Homelessness-Go_San-Diego-507122652.html

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