An upcoming public safety meeting aims to improve coordination between local agencies
There has been a surge in community concern over public safety and the environment due to drug dens—like one among the rocks at Cowell Beach that was documented by surf instructor Dylan Greiner and aired on television news several weeks ago—where used syringes and human waste litter the area and wash onto the beach and into the surf.
Michael Becker, co-president of the community action group Take Back Santa Cruz, says photos and videos of the problem zones being shared on social media sites and the local news have prompted a significant increase in the number of community members voicing concerns and getting involved.
To address the community's concerns and facilitate coordination between local agencies and groups, the city’s Public Safety Committee will hold an open-door meeting Monday, Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers. It will be the fifth safety meeting this year.
The meeting will be to review what has been done so far and how it has worked, says City Councilmember David Terrazas, who is also chair of the committee. The committee will evaluate existing policies, define the responsibilities of various agencies and discuss ways to make immediate improvements in problem zones.
“We're looking at pragmatic solutions to make sure that our community is heading in the right direction,” Terrazas says.
The responsibilities for cleaning up blighted areas and for preventing camps and drug-related activities from occurring in the first place fall upon a variety of local agencies. Terrazas hopes the meeting will be an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and communicating more effectively. He says the upcoming meeting will be an opportunity to improve coordination efforts between the city, the court system, the county, social services and community members.
Some measures have already been taken to revitalize the areas along the San Lorenzo River Levee, which have long been plagued with illegal campsites, used drug paraphernalia and human refuse.
Community groups Take Back Santa Cruz and the Leveelies—a group of women who regularly clean up along the San Lorenzo River Levee—have worked hard to clean up and bring attention to the area. They succeeded in getting the city's Department of Parks and Recreation to install more trash cans, cigarette butt receptacles and lay mulch, says Janet Fardette, a downtown resident and founder of the Leveelies.
Parks and Recreation has also installed a disc golf course and markers for a 5K running route along the levee, all of which has helped to make the area a safer place, Fardette says.
While the work isn't complete at the levee, Terrazas says the recently documented biohazard issues at Cowell Beach will be front and center for the committee.
Terrazas hopes to incorporate some of the same revitalization tactics used along the San Lorenzo River Levee for improving the situation at Cowell Beach and other parts of the city.
Becker says the video of the waste and syringes recorded by Greiner, which aired on the evening news several weeks ago, and other photos taken by people doing cleanups, have raised awareness and caused the community to rally together.
In just the past three weeks, he says the Take Back Santa Cruz Facebook group acquired about 500 new members—raising the total to 4,600. He says more people lately are coordinating on the Take Back Santa Cruz Facebook page and going out to do their own cleanups. He says that group members have been going to Cowell Beach almost every day during low tide to clean up needles that have washed out from the rocks. A new Facebook page called The Clean Team!! sprang up in early December in reaction to the problem, had 654 members as of press time, and also aims to help people organize grassroots cleanups.
In the past couple of years, Becker says they have been finding up to 10 times more needles than they used to.
Becker believes that good work has already been done cleaning up Pogonip Park and the levee, but says that efforts must be ongoing.
“You're never really done with any of this. You just take little steps,” Becker says.
Analicia Cube, the other co-president of Take Back Santa Cruz, says environmental degradation near the beach and river is a big concern of hers. She is especially troubled by the used syringes she says she and other group members have been finding during cleanups, and hopes it will be a main topic of discussion at the meeting.
Cube plans to promote a new ordinance at the meeting that requires that only retractable syringes—needles with points that automatically retract after use—be sold in Santa Cruz.
As for Cowell Beach, Terrazas says Public Works and Parks and Recreation staff, as well as community groups, have greatly improved the situation already and that increased police patrol will help to prevent the problems from continuing.
The city faces a complex problem addressing the ongoing criminal, environmental and social impacts of these problems, especially with their limited resources, he adds. Moving forward, he says it will be important for the city to form strong partnerships with external agencies and build strong partnerships throughout the community.
City of Santa Cruz Public Safety Committee meeting, 5:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 17 at Council Chambers, 809 Center St., Santa Cruz.
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