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DEFENDING PUBLIC SPACE – More on why driving artists off of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz is a crime.

by Food Not Bombs co-founder, author and artist

The Santa Cruz Police arrested my partner and I during a sleep out at city hall on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, charging us with felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit a crime. Officers said the suspects spray-painted markings outlining new Blue Boxes for street artists in 33 additional locations throughout the downtown area. We go to court in Santa Cruz at 8:30 AM in Department 1 on Monday, August 31st.

“The blue corner marks that Abbi Samuels and Jonathan Keith McHenry made were similar to official city markings for street vendor areas, said Santa Cruz police spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke. Authorities noticed the 33 markings and caught the pair by reviewing surveillance footage, Blaschke said.”

“’In addition to vandalizing the city sidewalks, the act undermines the city’s program to establish safe, orderly and fair use of the downtown sidewalk space,’” said Blaschke.
According to journalist Bradley Allen, “The action of painting blue boxes comes on the heels of two well-known artists, Joff Jones and Alex Skeleton, being arrested by Santa Cruz Police on August 20 for displaying art in front of Forever 21 which, as of recently, is not allowed since the boxes there were removed. A few days later on Sunday, the artists defiantly returned to the sidewalk in front of Forever 21 dressed in Colonial attire with displays of their artwork and a painting of the First Amendment. They were not arrested a second time.”
“My art expresses my social, religious, and existential views. My first amendment guarantees me the right to express that in a public space. My friend Alex and I were arrested yesterday for exercising these rights. Be downtown on Saturday at 12:00pm to see part two. Stand up for your rights!!!”

The morning after the new blue boxes appeared, city officials could be seen outside Forever 21 in a state of confusion as they tried to figure out why the performance space they had removed a week or two before had suddenly reappeared. A guitarist sang outside New Leaf. He expressed excitement at the fact that a new blue box had been placed at exactly the perfect location to reach an appreciative audience.

While the struggle against free expression on Pacific Avenue has a 20 year history, the most recent drama started on September, 10, 2013 when the Santa Cruz City council passed Ordinance 2013-14, an amendment to section 5.43 of the city code that restricts the space allotted for “noncommercial use of city streets and sidewalks” (i.e. street performance) to 12 square feet per individual or group.

After the council vote Dixie Mills, founder of the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival, noted that, “This new ordinance will silently kill the street performer/vendor scene that is so much a part of the flavor of downtown Santa Cruz. If the ordinance just banned this kind of activity all together, there would probably be a big uproar. This way these activities are still allowed, but they are so constrained with rules that slowly but surely we will have a quieter, and less interesting downtown,” she says.  “It seems to me the spirit of Santa Cruz would want to attract these artists instead of making it difficult or impossible for them to share their talents.”

Conflicts between street artists and business leaders forced the issue to be revisited by City Council in the fall of 2014.  The new changes, which were unanimously approved on October 28, 2014 and passed at the November 18, 2014 council meeting, stated that the city would set up 61 color-coded spaces along Pacific Avenue where vendors and performers can stay for up to one hour.

The city never did place 61 color coded spaces along Pacific Avenue but they did paint a couple of dozen blue boxes on the street side of the sidewalks. During the year after the policy was adopted, a number of these spaces were quietly erased without public input, sparking new protests by local artists. It should not have been a surprise to anyone that artists would resist as police and hosts used the disappearance of popular blue box locations as a way to drive them off Pacific Avenue.

Read the full post on the Food Not Bombs blog

Here’s more from the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Here’s more from Earth First! News Wire

Filed under: Community News, Essays

About the Author

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Jeremiah Walton is wary of bios, but there's the current sign they're flying: “Jeremiah Walton is founder of Nostrovia! Press & traveling bookstore Books & Shovels. They’ve featured at the NYC Poetry Festival, Oakland Beast Crawl, San Francisco Lit Crawl, Death Rattle, the Kansas City Poetry Throwdown, Cleveland’s Guide to Kulchur: Snoetry, among other lit fests, street corners, & living rooms across the country. They loath-themselves, & are struggling to find a healthy extension of the poem that incorporates publishing. Consistently confused, & trying to make space for compassion for the parts of myself I hate.” That feels like tattooing "love me" across my neck, but hopefully you get to know me thru my poems, not the accolades that are nothing more than memories to let go of.

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