Archives for posts with tag: Homeless Shelter

Happy New Year

Last week Fullerton City Council Member Jennifer Fitzgerald sent an email to selected Fullerton residents wishing them a Happy New Year, along with “some of the highlights of the past year.” These highlights are listed below, with commentary by the Rag, along with a couple of other highlights she forgot to mention.

“Hired Police Chief Dan Hughes”

(Note: Dan Hughes was actually hired in 2012)

Former Captain and Acting Police Chief Dan Hughes was promoted to Chief of the Fullerton Police Department without considering any other candidates for the position and without having in place any system whatsoever for oversight of the troubled FPD.

Months later, 4/5 of the council, including Ms. Fitzgerald, voted to hire Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review to periodically audit the FPD rather than to even seriously consider a Police Commission comprised of members of the Fullerton community to ensure local accountability.

“Returned of millions of dollars in water fee overcharges”

Rather than acting as an advocate for the taxpayers, Jennifer Fitzgerald accepted the city’s own unreliable and senseless account of how much it supposedly costs the municipality to deliver water to households and businesses.

In doing so, she accepted as fact the notion that the city should charge it’s own water department to lease space for storage at a premium rate, even though such lease arrangements were not documented anywhere before. Instead of challenging the city’s transparently self-serving attempt to retain as much of the refund as possible, Ms. Fitzgerald significantly reduced the amount of money returned to ratepayers for the illegal tax. In doing so, she helped to enshrine into practice a higher set of fees for Fullerton ratepayers for years to come.

“Increased funding to fix bad roads and aging water pipes”

Budgeting more money to fix the crumbling streets and exploding water pipes was a critical necessity overlooked, and exacerbated, by underfunding by previous councils. Restoring funding was an obvious move, but at least we should commend Jennnifer Fitzgerald for not opting to sell bonds to finance the decades long project to fix the water system. No wonder she didn’t want to give back all of the illegally collected water tax fees.

“Filled 1,000 backpacks for Fullerton children through Give Back(Packs)”

An admirable volunteer effort to help children in need, but does this activity have anything to do with her position on the Fullerton City Council?

“Created the City’s new Economic Development Commission”

The Economic Development Commission was created to replace a similar one attached to the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. It’s membership includes the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, an organization already paid by the city to promote business here. Some of the other members work for churches, quasi-governmental organizations, or operate businesses that have benefitted in the past from redevelopment contracts.

“Celebrated the addition of over 100 new jobs with the opening of the largest CJ Foods manufacturing facility in the United States”

Well, let’s celebrate. At least she doesn’t claim any credit for helping to locate this new dumpling factory in Fullerton. Oddly, the City of Fullerton’s website sets the number of new jobs at “over 200.”

Here are two items Ms. Fitzgerald might also have celebrated from 2013, but left out of her list:

Defunding and leasing out the Hunt Branch Library

Even though she ran for office as a supporter of core services, including police, fire, streets, parks and libraries…” she voted for a budget that defunded the Hunt Branch, keeping it closed indefinitely. She later voted to lease the facility out to a nearby church for nearly two years, leaving low income residents in the area without library services. The rationale for closing the Hunt Branch was that it needed a rest before being reopened as a better facility, but no plans exist to tell us how that is supposed to happen.

Voting to locate a county homeless shelter next to an elementary school

Over the objections of both the Fullerton School District and neighborhood parents Jennifer Fitzgerald voted to accept the county’s plan for a shelter near an entrance to an elementary school, even though residents had proposed other possible locations away from schools. The State College site was chosen by the County Board of Supervisors after being brokered by Vanguard Commercial Real Estate, whose owner is a close friend and supporter of 4th District Supervisor Shawn Nelson (who endorsed Ms. Fitzgerald for city council in 2012). Other members of the city council objected to both the location of the site and the county’s failure to involve the elected officials in the process of choosing it, and voted it down.

Meet the New Year, same as…

Homeless-Report-CoverIn a September 11 Orange County Register article by reporter Lou Ponsi entitled 59 Cited for Illegal Camping Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes attributes the recent spate of citations for illegal camping–59 since August 24–to both an increased number of homeless individuals and an increase in complaints about them. “The citations stemmed from complaints from business owners and residents, with most infractions taking place on private property,” notes the author.

But chapter 7.105 of the Fullerton Municipal Code refers to “Camping Unlawfully” as camping in public parks, public streets, public parking lots, public parking structures, and public areas in general. Camping on private property is called trespassing, addressed separately in the code, which begs the question of how someone can be cited for unlawful camping on private property when the ordinance specifically defines the infraction as applying to public spaces.

The article quotes Chief Hughes’ statement that “Homelessness is growing and impacting our communities in ways we have not experienced before,” and “Since there is no other entity able or willing to deal with the issues associated with homelessness, local law enforcement has been given the responsibility to do so.”

There can be little argument that not enough services exist for homeless people, but what is the basis for the claim that “Homelessness is growing?”

The County of Orange’s biennial homeless count came to just the opposite conclusion earlier this year. The county-wide 2013 Point-in-Time survey found that homelessness was actually down overall. Page five of the report shows that homelessness decreased in Orange County, from over 18,000 in 2011 to 12,707 in 2013.

Is homelessness growing in Fullerton while shrinking in the rest of our county? Or the whole country? The report notes that the downward trend in Orange County is consistent with the rest of the U.S. “Given the size, density and income distribution in the County, this estimate is congruent with national figures and provides a reference point with which to compare 2013 data.”

We are left to wonder how and why an overall decreasing population of homeless individuals are somehow a problem in new and novel ways in Fullerton, and why there is a need to suddenly begin enforcing an anti-camping ordinance and improperly apply it to individuals sleeping on private property.

Fullerton activist Stephan Baxter claimed that two months ago the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce instigated the crackdown on homeless people sleeping downtown by demanding that the police department do something about them. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Theresa Harvey has not responded to an email from Fullerton Rag asking for confirmation that such a request was made.

Mr. Baxter is calling for speakers to address the Fullerton City Council about the recent ticketing of homeless people downtown during the public comments period of their next meeting on September 17, 6:30 p.m.

At 8:30 that same night, Mr. Baxter and others plan to camp overnight at the Fullerton Transportation Center to protest the enforcement of the ordinance.

Stephan Baxter

September 11, 2013

An Open Letter to The Fullerton City Council

To the Honorable Bruce Whitaker, Mayor of Fullerton, and The Fullerton City Council Members,

The purpose of this letter is to request that Municipal code “7.105.020 – Camping unlawfully”, which I will from here on out refer to as the “no-camping ordinance”, and which was very much the topic of discussion at the last council meeting, be placed on the September 17th agenda. Considering the attention this issue is getting in the community and in the press, I believe that adding it to the agenda as soon as possible is warranted. I would greatly appreciate it if each of you would confirm receipt of this request and let me know if I can count on you to have it added. If you will not support my request, I humbly ask that you briefly state a reason for not doing so in your response to me.

Good people can disagree on policy, but good people should not prevent a discussion which may put an issue that is as divisive and as controversial as the criminalization of homelessness to bed. Fullerton is, at least in part, nationally known as the city that hired the officers who beat a homeless man to death. With the news trucks soon on their way to Orange County to cover the historic murder trial of 2 Fullerton officers, and in the process, to fill air space with nice “man on the street” stuff about how things have progressed since all of the success the reformers had a year ago, putting a positive spin on this current situation will be a little awkward. One thing is clear, this recent round of stupidity is certainly not helpful in getting Fullerton’s reputation past its darkest moment, and I suggest we put a moratorium on enforcing the no-camping violations until suitable accommodations are found for a 200 plus bed, year-round, emergency homeless shelter. For all concerned, this needs to be added to the agenda right away.

The newly-elected officials, especially those who now sit on city council, in part at least because of the political fallout of Kelly’s Thomas’ murder (I would argue that this applies to all of you, excepting the Mayor), need to go on record regarding a law that essentially makes being homeless a crime. You are in that seat because the public thought you could handle issues like this, and because they knew Bankhead, Jones, and McKinley could or would not. You owe it to those of us that voted for you to go on the record.

I am hopeful that, after an honest assessment of the political landscape during which you ran for office, at least one of you will personally come to the conclusion that you owe this opportunity to be on the city council in great part to the fate which befell Kelly Thomas. And when you have come to that conclusion, I believe that you are morally called upon to improve the lives of those with whom Kelly shared the streets. Perhaps you will then conclude, as I have already concluded for you, that you need to pay a VIG to Kelly’s memory. During your tenure in office, perhaps you will also conclude, as I have already also concluded for you, that you should pay your debt to Kelly by being a champion for the homeless, a champion for the mentally ill, and a champion for police oversight. Maybe this is your test of courage, and how you create your political legacy. We desperately need someone on the council to “own” the homeless issue. Wanting to be a champion for the dignified treatment of ALL of Fullerton’s residents is not controversial in polite society. . This could be someone’s legacy if someone cared, because I’m not hearing any acknowledgement from any of you that your political career exists, or was revitalized, because a homeless man was murdered. I would also like to point out that had Kelly survived the brutal beating on July 5th, 2011, he would now be getting cited for camping. That is NO way to pay your VIG. It’s your turn to do better than the last bunch. Let’s address the no-camping ordinance, put its enforcement on hold, and find an appropriate site for a shelter. Let’s do what your predecessors were incapable of, let’s do the right thing.

To forbid the homeless in this town from essentially sleeping will not go over well once it gets picked up on by the media. I contend that, even if our elected officials haven’t, the community of Fullerton has learned from the mistakes of the past, and is motivated not to repeat them. Individuals and little collections of self-interested pacs and/or associations may not, but collectively, Fullerton will never again look away when we learn about a grave injustice, especially one which carries with it the same dehumanizing odor that was thick in the air on the evening of July 5th, 2011, the evening that Kelly Thomas was beat to death as he cried out for mercy. If these citations were a bit of muscle-flexing by those who want to return to how things were before, and the criminalization of Fullerton’s homeless population were the subject, and this issue will establish once and for all that we are in a New Fullerton, a caring Fullerton with residents that are tuned in and take action, then so be it, we are ready! FPD’s position is indefensible and Fullerton hates bullies of any kind. Our community: the moms, the fathers, the students, the artists, the educators, musicians, bartenders, accountants, merchants, servers, nurses, small business owners and super rad yoga instructors, stood up and were counted when another homeless man was humiliated, devalued and treated without dignity, and once the message gets out that we are now citing the homeless as a class, not for what they have done, but for who we perceive them to be, the same will happen again. We all worked too hard for this to be the end result.

With this request it is my hope and my expectation that with a review of the no-camping ordinance, along with statements from some of the homeless who have been cited about the actual application of this law (which is quite different than the idealized version Chief Hughes spoke to at the last council meeting), we will demonstrate that the enforcement of this code is almost always counterproductive, always cynical, and nothing close to resembling an actual policy or solution to the “homeless problem”.

This does not mean that we should not be responsive to the needs of downtown businesses and residents. After all, our government does not suffer from a scarcity of laws which address human behavior, and which are perfectly suited to address the individual troublemakers in downtown. Be they the homeless, the weekend bar crowd, or a wayward Rotary Club member who mixed too many Xanax with her Pinot Noir, hold these individuals accountable for their actions, but do not apply presumption of guilt to all of those who don’t have a home.

These anti-homeless laws are, essentially, lazy, catch-all laws, that target the segment of the community with the least resources. In addition to all of the other flaws possessed by the no-camping ordinance, it doesn’t do a very good job of clearly identifying who, amongst the homeless, are the “bad guys”. We’re told that “the worst of the worst” are getting these tickets. I would like Chief Hughes to explain to us how a law which in order for it to apply, must find someone sleeping in public, is helpful in isolating the good guys from the bad (exception to all with a swastika on the forehead). Even I look like angel when I’m sleeping. And that statement is pure B.S .because we already personally know some who have been ticketed and they are good people

I appreciate the f/up that Council Member Jan Flory had at the last council meeting. The responses from Dan Hughes were the ideal, not the practice, but more importantly it put the Chief on record. But given the silence at the last meeting on this topic by all but Ms. Flory, it appears that the expectations of the public, a public that Voted for reform by a 3/2 margin may not be clear to all of you, because I can’t find anyone, anywhere, of any party, who could have imagined that ticketing people for the condition of homelessness would be how our city officials, elected and appointed (some of whom were riding the “Justice For Kelly” wave pretty hard, and were in fact hyper-critical of the police during last year’s recall election), would handle this situation. You are looking away instead of intervening on another dehumanizing policy at the hands of our police.

When I was celebrating the successful recall of Bankhead, Jones and McKinley (taking full advantage of our generous host’s open bar), I had no idea that one year later I would be arguing this hard to get the new council to understand why criminalizing all homeless people in Fullerton is not what we had in mind when we voted for change reform. I also would not have thought that three of you would have voted down a homeless shelter. To increase the enforcement of a 1992 no camping citation (by approx. 2000%) only weeks before the murder trial of another homeless person, and to do so in a community which only two months ago said no to a shelter, is to me obnoxiously unfathomable.

Doing the right thing doesn’t need to be difficult, it really doesn’t. Some things, the things that test our ethics, can smell bad from a mile away. It shouldn’t take a ton of arguing and hurt feeling to convince others that those things need to be gone. Enforcing a municipal code on people that have no choice but to be in violation of that code does not stand up any cursory application of “fairness”. Despite pressure from powerful business interests in this town, and the potential for blowback from some who contributed to your campaigns, if the undeniable on fairness of this issue does not compel you to want to stop its application, one should ask of you what it will take before you are willing to cross the wishes of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce.

This is not a difficult one guys. Until recently (OC Register 3/13, by Lou Ponsi), the chief of police himself agreed with what I am proposing.

Please respond by letting me know if you support putting this issue on the agenda.

We hope this can be resolved swiftly and fairly, through traditional channels.

More information can be found here:

With Respect and friendship,

Stephan Baxter

Fullerton CA

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