The end of Katherine Beiers’ term on the Santa Cruz Library Joint Powers Board paved the way for the passage of the library sleeping ban that Beiers had previously helped defeat.
“I once worked at a library where people dropped off children in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon,” Katherine Beiers told the Santa Cruz Library Joint Powers Board in December.
At that meeting, Beiers urged the board to vote “no” on a motion to add a sleeping ban to the library’s code of conduct.
“Libraries forever have been a haven to get out of the rain or sit down and just think. I’m sure an awful lot of people put their head down and slept for an hour or so. That is a reality…There are very few places the public can go without buying something,” she told the Santa Cruz Weekly over the phone.
The proposed ban, designed to combat the problem of homeless individuals sleeping for hours inside the downtown Santa Cruz library, was defeated at that meeting, in a tight 5-4 vote.
But the sleeping ban’s defeat was short-lived. This year, Beiers’ term ended, as did those of Sam Storey and John Leopold—board members who also voted against the library’s sleeping ban. With a new board in place, the sleeping ban was reintroduced by citizen member Dick English, who said he sharpened the language of the proposal to prevent any questions about the ban being discriminatory and potentially inviting “legal entanglements.” The ban passed unanimously at the March 4 meeting, with no debate.
“There’s a whole new board,” said Beiers. “If we had stayed on the board [the proposed sleeping ban] wouldn’t have come back… A new board gets to put things back on the agenda.”
Few people in this day and age would be surprised at the politics behind many board appointments. But votes on issues like the sleeping ban show how the makeup of a board can make or break policy changes that have lasting effects for a community. And while Beiers retired this year, sometimes politicians are removed from boards while they’re still in office.
County Supervisor John Leopold, for example, was unexpectedly removed from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in January on the recommendation of Commission Chair Neal Coonerty.
Leopold, who proposed strict environmental regulations that some saw as an impediment to the UCSC campus expansion, believes he was removed from the LAFCO commission because Coonerty disagreed with his politics.
“I was working to make sure that everyone got what they wanted—that we could get an adequate water supply and allow the university to grow,” said Leopold. “I was working hard to represent concerns of the community, and I’m disappointed that I don’t get to see that work all the way through.”
Coonerty admitted that he and Leopold differed on the “water issue” but noted that, regardless of committee members’ politics, shuffling members to accommodate newly elected officials is routine.
“Four years ago Ellen Pirie was on [the LAFCO board], and she was unhappy about being moved to an alternate space to make room for John Leopold to come on,” he said. “It is what it is,” he added.
There have been surprises at Santa Cruz City Hall as well. “Unfortunately, it seems like the new board assignments are more and more political,” says newly elected city councilmember Micah Posner, who claims he was “not assigned to any significant boards.”
Mayor Hilary Bryant appointed Posner to three boards, including the Area Agency on Aging, which so far has been using its alternate instead of Posner, and the Sanctuary Scenic Committee, which only meets four times a year. For the sake of comparison, city councilmember Pamela Comstock, who received fewer votes than Posner in the 2012 election, was placed on four boards, including the Water Board and the council’s Public Safety Committee.
The former director of People Power and two-time Bike to Work coordinator, Posner said he was surprised Mayor Bryant, who did not respond to a request for comment, did not recommend him for any transportation-related boards.
“I’m the one who knows the most about transportation,” he said. “The way it worked out was pretty disappointing to me. I think [the decision] was political.”
Additional reporting by Jacob Pierce.