Maybe this isn’t the best time to make this announcement, what with San Luis Obispo’s friendliest city loss fresh on everyone’s mind, but I’m announcing a campaign to find the City with the Driest Hills in Summer, Least Diverse City, and City with the Most out of Touch City Council. For the record, I didn’t necessarily create these awards with San Luis Obispo in mind, and I will dispense these awards without prejudice. The fact that I frequent San Luis Obispo and desperately want it to get rich off those sweet, sweet tourist dollars will not be a factor in my decision making.
Besides, the title of Friendliest City was all wrong for San Luis Obispo, anyway. As it turns out, the City Council doesn’t even have much interest in residents who turn out to a meeting to discuss an issue they consider important. And the city’s police force won’t be winning any prizes for manners either. At least not based on their behavior at a July 10 City Council meeting. Mind you this is all secondhand information; I have better things to do on a Tuesday night than go to a City Council meeting, but my sources are impeccable.
As homeless residents who had received tickets for overnight parking took their turn at public comment, two uniformed police officers snickered while their boss, Chief of Police Steve Gisell, could not have looked more bored by the proceedings. I would think that community servants wouldn’t be so, you know, outwardly bemused by the community they serve. I sleep a lot better when I know that my tax dollars are supporting officers who think every person—from the dirtiest gutter sleepers to the fanciest fancy-pantsers—aren’t punch lines. At the very least, our protectors should sit up and act like they care.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department might have a complicated relationship with the city’s homeless population, but at least in the past city leaders paid lip service to the idea that they respect such unfortunate locals. I’ve never heard of two officers, while on the clock at a city council meeting, slouching in the back and giggling like a couple of stoner kids at a high school pep rally. And the heightened emotional testimony, from people with no homes, pleading for a place to sleep at night, makes their show of disrespect that much worse. Is it just me, or is there a whiff of an us-vs.-them culture hanging over all this?
Remember that incident I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in which a police officer almost ran a woman over as she walked (legally) through a crosswalk? Yeah, I haven’t heard anything in the way of an apology from the police department, and certainly nothing indicating that a slap on the officer’s wrist was administered. Maybe I just haven’t been listening hard enough. Or maybe, when a cop nearly runs down a civilian in a crosswalk and doesn’t even stop to make sure she’s OK, it’s not a crime.
Of course, getting back to my first thread, the chuckling cops weren’t the only ones thumbing their noses the night of the council meeting. The City Council—at least four of the five members—showed a healthy disregard for Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall by dismissing his recent order that the city cease ticketing the people parked overnight along Prado Road. Now this is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, but in my experience, when a judge delivers an order or verdict, it’s best if you abide by that decision—especially when it happens to be a really good one and comes gift-wrapped with a compassionate plea for the city’s have-nots. It’s difficult to say what Crandall’s expectations were when he issued this decision—in an ideal world, he was probably hoping the city would abide by his decision—but in this one, apparently, they’re choosing to behave like children who just can’t resist putting their hands in the cookie jar after they’re told not to. Whether Crandall has the authority or desire to throw them in a time-out for their misbehavior is what remains to be seen.
It was a gutsy move to begin with—calling the city out for harassing a group of people who don’t have the resources to fight back—and one that showed a side of the judge many were surprised—and pleased—to find. Again, in a bright, shiny Disneyfied world, such compassion would be rewarded and might even inspire a change of heart among the City Council members. Now, for those of you savvy enough to avoid SLO City Council meetings and bored by local politics, here’s a list of the council members who seem to favor driving the homeless out of town: Mayor Jan Marx, Vice Mayor Dan Carpenter, and council members Andrew Carter and Kathy Smith. Before anyone decides to buy John Ashbaugh a beer for being the lone voice of dissent, it’s important to note that he didn’t object to the notion of preventing anyone from sleeping in a car; he merely opposed making that decision during an emergency meeting.
As for the rest, well, we’ll see whether Judge Crandall musters up some sort of response to their willful disregard of his orders. Maybe they’ll get their smiley face pins turned upside down.
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