Nūz: It looks like the new ban on loitering in city-owned parking lots is only going to displace the problem. What a shock.
Lots of Hooey
Following the Oct. 9 passage of a Santa Cruz city ordinance that makes it a trespassing crime to spend more than 15 minutes in any city-owned parking lot, Nūz decided to hit the pavement and find out how this clever rule might play out once it goes into effect on Nov. 8.
First up on Nūz's parking lot tour was the lot at Cedar and Walnut, where a group of young men were hanging out at the entrance to the lot. One of them, Chad J., said that if the police told him to leave, he'd probably wander over to Pacific or find a spot somewhere along the street to relax. Ve-e-ry interesting.
Another man, who gave his name as Chet Downing, was resting by a tree in the Cedar and Elm lot. He said he was just passing through Santa Cruz, but if the police told him to move on, he'd probably find a place to rest in the parks, by the river or "up in Soquel." It almost seemed like they'd set out to illustrate a point made by Councilmember Ed Porter and Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty's Aunt Sheila Coonerty, the one member of the Downtown Commission not to vote for the proposal.
"So, we're going to do all these things to make the parking lots free of such people, and then they will go somewhere," says Porter. "Where will that be? On the beach? We're not supposed to have that type of activity at our parks. On our streets? In front of businesses? In the few vacant lots that are left? Then we'll have to deal with that problem."
Instead of just brushing the problem to a new part of town, Porter would rather have the city look into expanding social services for alcohol and drug rehabilitation. "We need programs to address those problems," says Porter. "I say it in plural because one program that addresses alcohol might look at one-third of the big picture, but then there's the drug problem and those people need to be diverted into some rehab. There are also folks that are kind of anti-social and might need mental health help."
Right-o, says Nūz. Furthermore, what about the innocent citizens caught in the net—citizens not engaged in the unsightly habits of shooting heroin, taking a dump in the ferns or cat-calling the young ladies?Nūz visited the lot across from City Hall on Church and Center and found Catherine Heisinger and a friend sitting on the low wall enjoying some lunch. They work for the nearby child-care business A Child's Reflection.
"There is no comfortable area for us to take our lunch break," said Heisinger, explaining her presence there. So what, pray tell, becomes of Ms. Heisinger?
At the council meeting, police officers said they would be forced to kick everyone out of the lots after 15 minutes because selective enforcement is illegal. Heisinger would then be out of a lunch-break area. And one Charles Huddleston opined at the meeting that it's ridiculous he would no longer be able to read or meditate in his van between movie times, for example.
These comments reveal a larger debate occurring in Santa Cruz regarding selective enforcement. With an understaffed police force, some city officials, including Porter, believe selective enforcement is actually the smart way to go. But homeless activists and members of the Latino community, including Councilmember Tony Madrigal, worry that selective enforcement practices can lead to unfair profiling by the police.
Whether or not the police use selective enforcement, Porter thinks it is certain that people with nowhere else to go will be pushed out of the lots to some new hangout area. "I don't know where it will be," admits Porter. "But they're certainly not going to jump in their limousines and leave town."
As the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) faces a growing list of legal and political challenges to the decision to aerially spray pheromones aimed at eradicating the light brown apple moth (LBAM) infestation in Santa Cruz County, the agency is scrambling to allay criticism by, among other things, forming an Environmental Advisory Task Force.
The creation of the task force was revealed in CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura's Oct. 9 full-spread letter in the Sentinel to Assemblyman John Laird. It's supposed to be made up of representatives from environmental organizations, government regulatory agencies, universities and the agriculture industry, although fewer than half of the 15 to 18 participants CDFA hopes will hop aboard have signed on so far.
CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said it was too early to tell what specific environmental concerns the body would address or when it would be formally convened, but that the body would have a significant hand in researching and writing the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, which was rushed through without one.
"It will be a body that will be relied on for its expertise, will be appointed with that expertise in mind, so a two-way exchange of information can exist where we share information with the task force, which it can share with constituents," says Lyle. "The task force can then share information with us, which will assist the secretary in his decision making."
The process of forming an EIR began last month, but the spraying can continue without one as long as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to consider the LBAM infestation an emergency. Lyle estimates that the EIR will not be completed for another year. The pheromone could be sprayed as regularly as every 30 days in the meantime to ensure constant coverage of the infestation area.
Some in the environmental community worry that by the time the EIR is completed, the state will be so committed to its spraying plan that the environmental analysis will have little impact on policy direction. David Dilworth, executive director of Helping Our Peninsula Environment, which is suing the state over the spraying, worries that any analysis the environmental task force engages in will be too little too late.
"They won't have [the EIR] done before they spray," says Dilworth. "The law requires them to do it before they spray."
The response of state and local politicians to the formation of the task force has been mixed, with many saying they would have preferred to see the task force convened much earlier in the decision-making process. Assemblyman Laird was pleased to read of the task force but hopes it won't play second fiddle to the eradication goal pushed by the previous entomologist-heavy LBAM Technical Working Group. "It's important that the same urgency being applied to implementing the spray plan also gets applied to the work of the task force," he says. Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly expressed guarded optimism, saying that while she is happy the CDFA is "finally" taking the public's concerns seriously, there are still a number of questions that need to be worked out before she will be comfortable with the spraying.
"Is this truly an emergency? Why does it have to be dispensed in this way? What are the other ingredients? These are questions that people have," says Reilly. "I trust the [EIR] process and it hasn't been followed. When the process is followed, I believe we will find the information that we need."
Other members of the Santa Cruz City Council have taken less conciliatory stances toward the CDFA. Councilmember Mike Rotkin wants spraying halted until the task force can answer questions such as whether or not the chemical delivery system for the pheromone will biodegrade when it comes into contact with water.
"They say it breaks down, but apparently not if it's wet," says Rotkin, who worries that animals or humans could accidentally ingest the chemical if it doesn't break down. "We're talking about a community that is right by the ocean and has all kinds of situations where this will be in contact with water. Just the dew in the morning alone could keep it damp [all day]. It's just a simple question. Maybe it is a nontoxic ingredient we don't have to worry about, but they've already given us contradictory information on this."
On the other side of the environmentalism coin, the CDFA is arguing that the pheromone spray will actually benefit many of California's native plant and tree populations, although Dilworth and others have questioned the veracity of these claims.
"LBAM presents risks to native trees and plant life," says Lyle. "The experience with the pest in Australia and New Zealand confirms this. It is not just a risk to our food crops, it also threatens the environment."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Oct. 15 signing of A.B. 110, which approves the use of state money to purchase clean syringes, represents a critical turning point in the needle exchange movement's fight for legitimacy. The bill, sponsored by District 27 Assemblymember John Laird, gives the state health department's Office of AIDS yet another tool with which to fight the spread of HIV (and, while they're at it, Hepatitis C).
Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill authored by Laird in 2005, arguing the money could be better spent on other prevention methods. Since then numerous studies have come out arguing that needle exchanges are the most effective method of preventing injection drug users from spreading disease. Needle sharing is linked to 20 percent of new HIV cases every year in California.
Needle exchange works on a simple concept: Arrive with any number of dirty needles and receive an equal number of clean needles in return, no questions asked. Prior to passage of this bill, the Office of AIDS could only give money to needle exchanges for educational materials, staff costs or to pay rent.
In June of this year, the Office of AIDS spread out $2.25 million in grants to 10 different needle exchange programs to be used over three years, including one in Santa Cruz. But these funds could not be used to purchase syringes. It was unclear as of presstime whether the Santa Cruz Needle Exchange will receive any additional funding or if the previous grant money can now be used for syringes.
Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.