The Nov. 27 Editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
By its very name, makeup and purpose, the Santa Cruz Public Safety Citizen Task Force was never going to overturn the long-established underpinnings of the city’s cherished identity.
By including a multiplicity of viewpoints, from people of diverse backgrounds, and then hearing from public officials on topics relating to crime, public safety and the quality of life in Santa Cruz city and county, the task force was inevitably going to seek a reasonable middle ground.
So to those who have expressed mild disappointment that after six months, the 17-page report produced by the 14 voting task force members, was not somehow stronger or more drastic, well, that’s not how consensus comes calling.
In fact, it’s somewhat remarkable the report takes on difficult issues such as the needle exchange program, police staffing, Santa Cruz’s reputation for “tolerance,” the problems associated with a large homeless population, and a criminal justice system blamed for creating a revolving door between the County Jail downtown and the streets.
One of the more important aspects of the report we hope will be receive is for the city and county governments work far more effectively in concert. A “lack of collaboration and unified vision is partly to blame,” said members, for the considerable public safety challenges faced by the city, including the court system, needle exchanges, and the jail and homeless centers located just off the city’s main commercial district.
Among the recommendations to be presented to the Santa Cruz City Council Dec. 3 will be moving the controversial needle exchange program from the county’s Emeline campus and away from residential neighborhoods, asking the county Superior Court’s presiding judge to appear before the council twice a year to discuss the high rate of repeat offenders passing through the system, and improving lighting in discourage rampant illegal behaviors in areas highly impacted by transients and drug offenders such as the San Lorenzo River and Harvey West Park.
Critics are already taking issue with many of the recommendations, saying it’s not true there aren’t enough cops on patrol, or that harsher sentences will reduce the number of individuals reoffending. They also don’t believe relocating the needle exchange program, or insisting on a one-to-one exchange policy will do much to reduce the complaints about discarded needles being found throughout the city, including residential areas and beaches — or cut down on the number of drug abusers. They also don’t like how homeless people seem targeted or blamed.
One group of community activists wrote to the Sentinel taking on the task force for failing to support its assertions with cited facts, and for not comparing illegal behaviors in Santa Cruz to other cities of similar size.
Perhaps so, but the task force, formed after the murders of two police officers and other high-profile crimes and resident complaints, was not a law enforcement agency, an arm of government — or even scientifically or statistically credentialed. Some of members’ ideas will need funding; others, such as getting more at-risk youth involved in city-sponsored parks and recreation programs would probably take yet another tax increase.
Indeed, we prefer to focus on the word “citizen” and consider members’ statements and recommendations as representative of the views, goals and solutions of concerned residents. We asked for these; they delivered.
In that light, we’d like to thank the task force members, who took on a tough and time-consuming job, and often engaged in unsparing, heated debate.
In that their conclusions are already under fire, just shows they took their mandate seriously.