Sherman R. Frederick/Publisher
Sometimes decisions have unintended consequences. Nothing illustrates this more than the bad idea of tolerating homeless encampments in Marin public parks.
While the encampment at Lee Gerner Park in Novato is one example of this unmitigated mess, the poster child for the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is the tent city at Dunphy Park in Sausalito.
It all began just after Christmas when one guy pitched a tent in the bayside park. Then another came and another, illustrating the maxim that “if you allow it, they will come.” By the time the City of Sausalito decided to act, the camp had grown into a life of its own. People dragged stoves, tables and even lounge chairs to the site. A mess hall and portable toilets miraculously appeared. Well-intentioned Marin folk brought bagels and cream cheese for Sunday brunch with the homeless. It was a surreal sight.
Tent City residents organized a make-shift civic order, creating their own flag, and naming themselves residents of Camp Cormorant. Two weeks ago, they banned a man from living in the camp because he allegedly had a nasty habit of getting rough with his girlfriend and he had a tendency to parade around camp in his birthday suit while fondling his wee-willie in front of children. (Apparently, you can just vote people off the island in a tent city. Other traditional cities in Marin want to know how they can do that, too.)
But I digress. Sausalito City Council spent too much time wringing its hands over the Dunphy Park mess before finally electing to declare one public park in the city eligible for camping for the homeless, and that would be Marinship Park. There, the homeless would be allowed to pitch a tent and sleep. But at sunrise, the down and out would have to break camp and leave.
Well, needless to say, this idea brought on a lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, in a spectacularly asinine decision, slapped the city’s helping hand because of the totally unsubstantiated claim that fiberglass coming from a nearby federal boat crushing yard would sicken the homeless if they were forced to move to Marinship. Last week, the judge reversed himself on the fiberglass pretense and ruled the city could designate one authorized place for the homeless to camp — in Sausalito that would be Marinship — but that the one designated camp can be permanent. Tents may stay up 24-7.
That new Chen-ism seems at odds with previous federal court precedent that the homeless only have a right to sleep overnight, not to a permanent encampment.
Now comes the unintended consequence. The organizers of Sausalito Arts Festival, which is held Labor Day weekend in Marinship Park, say they have to cancel this year’s event because the venue is too much up in the air.
Some blame the city. Some blame the homeless. I’m not sure blame is the proper response because either way the festival — one of the oldest open-air art shows and huge revenue generator for Sausalito tourism — is cancelled, which is a damn shame, especially for Marin artists who depend on such shows for income.
The proper response is to learn from the episode, otherwise we’ll be doomed to repeat it. The key takeaway seems obvious: Semi-permanent tent cities in city parks are not a good answer. They fix nothing. It’s not good for the homeless and it’s certainly not fair to the community.
On June 15, the COVID-19 crisis will be fundamentally over. Marin County and cities from Novato to Sausalito must regroup in a united front and deal with these consequences. They should press these issues in court, if they have to. The status quo, complete with the latest Judge Chen ruling, is simply not an option.
I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE …
Speaking of Novato, in leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the last Novato City Council meeting, Mayor Pat Eklund muffed the words, throwing everyone else off. It happens. But the first public speaker at the meeting, no fan of the mayor, pinned her ears back about it.
The speaker first criticized the mayor for failing to acknowledge the upcoming Memorial Day “and the hundreds of thousands of Americans that have died” and then added “I wish you would learn the Pledge of Allegiance next time. I was very horrified at that.”
Just goes to show that if you wanna be a public official you better have thick skin. Flawlessly reciting the Pledge is also a good thing.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US
In July, one of Marinscope’s community newspapers will celebrate its 99th birthday. Congratulations to the Novato Advance. It’s been a tough haul for newspapers in America, but the Novato Advance made it. Continuing to serve Novato and Marin has been a great honor for us. Thank you for reading and advertising with us.
Marinscope publishes six fully adjudicated weekly newspapers in Marin — the Novato Advance, the San Rafael News Pointer, the Mill Valley Herald, the Ross Valley Reporter, the Twin Cities Times and the Sausalito Marinscope.
You can subscribe to any of these newspapers on page 3A.
ONE MORE THING
— If your husband leaves his clothes on the floor, it means he no longer wants them. You are free to throw them away. See me next week for more marriage advice.
— I have a pen that writes underwater. It writes other words too.
— What’s brown and sticky. A stick.
— If you’re angry about not having toast in the morning, you are probably lack toast intolerant.
And that’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for reading. Be safe, be kind.
(Sherman Frederick is the editor and publisher of Marinscope Community Newspapers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 415-408-1073.)