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Not So Fast: City Reverses Course on Letter to Sheriff, Says It's Not Allowed Under the Law

On Monday, Council agreed to send letter to Sheriff asking him to not evict any homeowners during holiday season.

In a sharp reversal Tuesday, the city decided that it would not send a letter to Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas asking him to halt evictions, after concluding that the sheriff would be breaking the law if he complied with their request.

“It’s a little bit unfortunate,” said City Manager John Brown. “Sometimes we do things on the fly and don’t have the opportunity to take that extra few minutes to look into whether this is something we can actually do…It was a good idea, but not something we can follow through on.”

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council agreed to write a letter to Freitas asking him to halt all evictions on foreclosed homes during the holiday season, after members of Occupy Petaluma suggested it during the meeting. But they soon realized the Sheriff was not legally allowed to not evict people, per section 26.608 of the California government.

The law requires the sheriff to serve all legal process, including any type of court of orders, which evictions fall under, Brown said.

“When we started looking into this issue and whether this is something the sheriff could legally do, we realized it was not permissible under the law,” he said. “And it didn’t make sense to ask the sheriff to do something that he legally can’t do.”

Reached by phone, Sheriff Freitas said that he was legally bound to uphold a court order and would be committing a crime if he did not.

“I’ve taken an oath to uphold the law and I don’t pick and choose which ones I want to uphold,” Freitas said.

The reversal deals a blow to Occupy Petaluma activists who have made foreclosures one of their key points during nearly a month of “occupation” of Penry Park. A message left for the spokesman of the group was not immediately returned.

However, the city did pass a resolution Monday halting all foreclosures during the holidays, a symbolic move since they have no control over banks, and on Tuesday sent a letter to Edward De Marco, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency asking him to declare a national moratorium on foreclosures through January 2, 2012.

Meanwhile, Occupy Petaluma’s permit to stay in the park runs out today and city staff are evaluating whether to renew it.

“If all is in compliance with the intent of conditions, there would be some reissuance of a permit,” Brown said, adding that the city has had a cooperative working relationship with the group so far.

"They’ve made an effort to minimize their impact on the park and we’ve made an effort to make it easier for them to comply with the permit, Brown said. "We’d like to avoid the types of conflict you’ve seen in some other places and thus far, it seems to be holding.”

What do you think about the latest development? What else can the city do to help homeowners facing foreclosure?

George Barich November 29, 2011 at 04:42 PM
As a local businessperson and former city council member in Cotati, I was interested in Occupy Petaluma and decided to investigate further one Saturday as I laid in bed all day. I joined their facebook page and simply asked questions and commented professionally and politely in the spirit of healthy dialogue and to have adult conversations. It was going well until it was clear I would not be swayed on a few points when a few people began to chastise me and accuse me of being antagonistic, disruptive, and told me to go away as I was called names not worth repeating. I was accused of being a Troll, which I denied. Within hours, I was blocked and all my written comments throughout the day were deleted in an intentional act of censorship the likes of which I would have never imagined. (continued below)
George Barich November 29, 2011 at 06:14 PM
So, I took my complaint to the self proclaimed leadership at Penry Park and addressed the General Assembly and argued that such a practice is blatantly wrong and counter productive to the movement. They unanimously agreed that free speech would be protected, respected and thanked me for coming. I then logged back into their FB page under a new assumed name and proceeded to thank the General Assembly for taking quick action to support free speech with the exception of profanity, hate speech, sexual harassment, racist comments, and SPAM. I wrote a genuine thank you and explained that censorship had been condemned in the strongest language possible by the leadership. Today, my comments have been completely erased and I have been blocked access to the FB group. This is either one very sinister group of people with a hidden agenda, or they have been totally hijacked by a small group of far left radicals that have no tolerance whatsoever for free speech. I find these series of events to be some of the most disturbing I have experienced in years. They have some serious explaining to do if they claim to welcome all with open arms.
Steve November 30, 2011 at 05:49 AM
Adbert.... you really, really need to watch "Inside Job". All the facts are right there and you will see how wrong you are.
Jeff Arnold November 30, 2011 at 06:29 PM
@Adbert "If you're going to protest an issue, you really should know the facts." You paint quite a picture. The facts, however, paint quite a different one. Responsibility for predatory lending practices ultimately falls on (wait for it) the lenders. Fannie and Freddie provided a backstop to the lenders, but they did not force them to make subprime loans with zero down and no credit check. That onus is on the lenders. Just because an environment is ripe for abuse (read: backstopped by a federal agency, historically low interest rates, many first-time borrowers seeking homeownership), that does not allow predatory lenders to abdicate responsibility for those abuses. The pitch was simple: buy a home now, even if you can't afford it, and it will go up in value along with the rest of the market. When the value goes up, you refinance and use the profit to make monthly payments lower. Most recipients of these loans were not knowledgeable enough of interest rate risk or market risk to realize that the entire process could come undone if housing prices were to turn downward. Many did not even speak English as their primary language, and were being coached through the process by whom? Their lender. I am not saying all borrowers are off the hook--far from it, they are suffering the most. However, the lenders that engaged in poor practices are ultimately responsible for the losses they incurred, both for themselves and the American public.
Jeff Arnold November 30, 2011 at 06:49 PM
George, You've posted a pair of identical comments on a different article, so I have taken the liberty of re-posting my response here. An individual is responsible for maintaining the Occupy Petaluma FB group. While I sympathize with your concerns, in reality FB is a troll magnet, and the individual running the group was likely overzealous or misidentified your comments as being trollish. Regardless, that individual is just that, an individual, and not necessarily representative of the Occupy Petaluma campers or GA participants. That said, the Occupy Petaluma FB group is not the only venue for Occupy Petaluma to hold discussions, and if you believe you can do a better job of maintaining free speech, you are always welcome to start a new Occupy Petaluma FB group. I do not say this to discourage your participation in any way--your perspective holds value as does the perspective of those regularly attending GAs. I say this with the note that I have not attended the Occupy Petaluma GA, nor have I posted to the Occupy Petaluma FB Group (found here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-Petaluma/224874847568289 ). It is simply a fact of FB groups that whomever creates the group pulls the strings until and unless someone else takes over administration via the 'this is my business' button, and all decisions of what to highlight or delete are undertaken by that individual.

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