How is it that a bright green paper issued from the government doesn’t buy you anything but a possible tow?
These green pieces of paper, known as “green tags,” serve as warnings for allegedly abandoned vehicles. The police leave these warnings on vehicles that have reportedly not been moved in 72 hours. The green tag can also be served if the vehicle’s registration expired over six months ago or, as the paper reads, if “an officer has reasonable grounds to believe it is abandoned on a highway or, on public or private property.”
Especially after January’s storms, unhoused individuals are living in cars and RVs. With no other place to go, their vehicles become a place of refuge.
Bill Freeman, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, says they have been looking at Santa Cruz’s policies for the past four years in hopes of addressing the houselessness crisis. This includes policies about camps and parking and how they are enforced. The ACLU became aware of the green tags through their Santa Cruz local chapter, where many have reported their grievances.
“This program seems to be initiated by housed residents,” Freeman said. “In other words, it’s complaint-driven.”
In many cases, the police write “drive one mile” on the vehicle’s tire. However, Chapter 9 of Santa Cruz’s municipal code only stipulates that the vehicle moves “more than 1,000 feet,” which is only one-fifth of a mile. This constant relocation increases instability for those in vulnerable housing situations and perpetuates what Freeman calls the “move on” mentality.
Freeman found that nicer RVs are less likely to be bothered about the 72 hour ordinance, unlike their older counterparts.
Reggie Meisler, a Santa Cruz activist, has been assisting the unhoused community since late 2018. They went to places such as the Ross camp, a houseless camp between Highway 1 and the Ross retail store on River Street, and provided residents with essentials ranging from toilet paper to batteries.
Meisler’s involvement in houseless advocacy began with the passing of the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO) in 2021, which he fought through appeals. It has been paused since then. Soon after, Meisler started talking to locals who were affected by the storms, under the assumption that the city would find new ways to harass people experiencing houselessness. This is how he found out about the tags.
Recently, he has been keeping up with policies that affect people experiencing houselessness and personally assisting West Side residents as needed.
Reflecting on a personal story where he dealt with the consequences of green tagging, Meisler remembered when his landlord’s daughter parked her car outside of his home. Since it was an older vehicle, neighbors assumed the vehicle was abandoned and had it towed.
Housed residents are concerned about the safety of their neighborhoods and view green tagging as a direct action they can take to remove non-permanent residents. This tactic comes at the expense of those who are in unsafe positions to begin with.
Off of Delaware Avenue and Shaffer Road, there is a “No Parking” sign effective from the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. Yet Brian Borguno, former Parking Program Manager, reported in a thread of emails that he was unable to “find record, at this time, of a coastal permit” that would allow police to ticket during those hours.
This information was brought to Meisler’s attention in 2021 when OVO was passed. Borguno believes the signs have been there since late 2003. Although they are not legally allowed to ticket, the signs will stay up until the City Zoning Administrator initiates an investigation.
“I’ve gone through all the zone admin meetings,” Meisler said. “None of them have talked about no parking on Delaware.”
The City knows this, revealing a gross lack of communication at best, and complicity in unlawful harassment at worst.
The ACLU is currently trying to bridge the informational gap by collecting stories, data, and records of the city. This way, they can compile statistics representing the policy’s impacts on different parts of the community.
“The homeless response is problematic,” he said, “[It] affects black and brown people the most.”
This holds true for residents like LeeAnn Sherwood, who’s been living from her van for the past three and a half years on Delaware Avenue — there is no peace to be found from the city, more specifically the police.
Sherwood, also known as “Grandma Barbie” to her friends, has three bachelor’s degrees in cultural anthropology, psychology, and sociology. She uses that knowledge to aid unprotected parts of the community by bringing attention to officials’ abuse of power and documenting evidence of police harassment.
She reflects on the countless times police have harassed her with green tags. Sherwood believes that once the police gave her a ticket at 4 a.m. so that she couldn’t contest them on the 72-hour time limit she had not surpassed. Her husband’s camera setup prevented that, but many are not as fortunate.
“One time, they gave us a ticket and broke our windshield,” Sherwood said. “The next day, they gave us another ticket [and] then pushed on it and it broke a little more.”
City on a Hill Press reached out to Bernie Escalante, Santa Cruz’s Chief of Police, and Larry Imwalle, the Homelessness Response Manager, but they did not respond.
“They are actively trying to hurt us,” Sherwood said. “Deep down, they want us to go away.”