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Getting Attention: Becky Johnson and Scott Renfer (pictured) are among the participants in the homeless sit-in, three of whom have been issued a temporary restraining order.


Homeless Sleep-In

On Dec. 21, Ken Cole, executive director of the Homeless Services Center, read the 41 names of homeless people who died in the last year, more than double the number of deaths in 1999. Many of the deaths resulted from exposure.

According to the 2000 Homeless Census Survey, there are more than 1,200 homeless people but only 160 shelter spots in the city of Santa Cruz. One such shelter, the National Guard Armory near De Laveaga Park, can hold up to 100 people, but for various reasons, it is often not filled to capacity.

Perhaps that will change now that homeless people can wake up at 6am instead of 5am. "It sounds like such a small thing, but to the people that are using the armory, it is a huge improvement," Cole says.

The extra hour came after an agreement between the city and the armory's commander. The National Guard also requires that the HSC pay $325 a night for the use of the facility and that they hire a security officer and a janitorial service each of the 153 nights they occupy the space.

"It's painfully absurd when you look at what we have to do," says Cole. "We've gone out and looked at other facilities, but we can't find others as large that can be rented on a consistent basis. If we could get a bond measure passed, we could buy or rent a more suitable space."

According to Santa Cruz Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice, "The use of the armory is consistently less than the need. The space is comfortable but inconvenient. Some people are deterred ... by the time restrictions, the number of people sleeping in the same room, ... [and] the difficulty of sharing a small bathroom with dozens of others in the morning."

Meanwhile, the Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom-sponsored sit-in at the mayor's office has succeeded only in annoying city employees. On the 17th day of the anti-camping ordinance sit-in, three participants were served a temporary restraining order.

Homeless activists Robert Norse, Bernard Klitzner and Becky Johnson are not permitted to come within 50 yards of the city manager and City Council offices until their hearing on Jan. 10.

The order was filed by Anna Brooks, an administrative assistant who works in the reception area where the sit-in has been taking place since Dec. 4. In her declaration to the court, Brooks states that "[the protesters] are not content to simply be observed but wish to make their presence felt by engaging in a pattern of behavior which is intimidating, harassing and, for me personally, emotionally traumatic." According to Brooks, the protesters routinely speak loudly into tape recorders, give unwanted advice to city staff, monopolize the furniture, help themselves to office supplies and have even videotaped Brooks without her consent.

According to Fitzmaurice, the police have given no citations for camping this season so far. Other news on the homeless front is that the county is scheduled to receive a $2,595,254 HUD grant for local homeless services.

Get Off the Bus

Observant citizens may have noticed that campaign signs are still gracing the sides and interiors of city buses almost two months after we first learned what a chad is. Their continued presence has finally pushed Santa Cruz City Clerk Leslie Cook to call the transit district.

"They are their own self-regulatory entity," Cook explains. "The city can't do anything." According to Cook, although buses are public spaces, they do not fall under the municipal law requiring the removal of campaign signs from public property within 10 days of the election.

However, Mark Dorfman, marketing assistant with the transit district, says that the district "can't touch the signs," nor can the candidates who paid to put them there. That's the job of Obie Media. But according to Mike Dempsey, district manager for Obie Media, the campaign signs are treated just like any other paid advertisement. The campaign ads have outlived their paid-for period, says Dempsey, for a couple of reasons. First, changing signs on buses isn't as easy as it looks, especially on the older buses because their paint chips very easily.

"Another big part of the problem is that we have a man-power shortage," he admits. "We're doing the best we can. We just haven't had the resources to get them down sooner. We tried to bring installers out here, but they just can't afford to live here. Many of them have young families. The cost of living is affecting our city's very infrastructure."

Currently, Obie Media employs only two installers for the entire state of California. Steve Crain, who lives in Sacramento, is one of them. "I drive to Santa Cruz and stay in a hotel for a few days a week," he says, because it's cheaper than living here.

Dempsey hopes that the signs will be replaced sometime this week.

Toxic Wasteland

The California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances Control has announced a cleanup plan for the Lindbergh Street site, a currently weed-filled patch of land that borders a mobile home park, the San Lorenzo River, Outdoor World, the Santa Cruz Ski Shop and Lenz's.

Once home to an auto-wrecking company, then a warehouse and more recently several small commercial and industrial businesses, the area has been under lock and key since February 2000, when lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons were found in ground water and soil samples .

The DTSC is recommending evacuation and off-site disposal of all soil that contains chemicals, as this would provide "both short- and long-term protection of human health and the environment."

Says Otis Jackson, public information officer for the DTSC, "Current development plans for the site are uncertain, but the Draft Remedial Action Plan proposes to clean up the site for residential standards to allow for future use."

However--and this is where it gets interesting for Joe Public--the DTSC is required by the California Environmental Quality Act to hold a public meeting and take public comments before making its final decision. In other words, this is the public's chance to ask how much the cleanup will cost, whether it would be better to pave the whole mess over into a parking lot and zone it for industrial use only, or whether a once contaminated area really can be salvaged for residential use so that some day some lucky resident can have a room with a view of the river.

Citizens interested in learning more about the Lindbergh Street site and how the CEQA works can read the Draft RAP at the Santa Cruz Library and attend the public meeting, to be held at 6pm on Jan. 10 in Room 22 of the Veterans Hall, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. Rachelle Maricq, the DTSC's public participation specialist, will attend. Written comments are due Jan. 19. For further information call 510.540.3910.

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From the January 3-10, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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