SANTA CRUZ -- Collecting trash and hypodermic needles, three dozen citizens walked Tuesday along the railroad tracks from the Westside to City Hall downtown, where they begged leaders to do something about chronic drug use, burglaries and violence.
"We have a responsibility to take care of the community," Kenneth Collins told the City Council, adding that he doesn't allow his daughter to ride her bike to school because she has found bags of methamphetamine and drug needles.
Participants, who said they had endured vehicle and home burglaries, said they found about 50 needles, "tons of garbage" and human waste during their hourlong walk.
Tuesday's march was partly organized by two men who made a recent video documenting the accumulation of drug waste in the rocks near Cowell Beach and posted it on the popular Facebook page of the anti-crime group Take Back Santa Cruz.
One of the men, surfing instructor Dylan Greiner, recalled how the city passed regulations last year limiting the number of people surf schools could instruct at any one time at Cowell Beach.
"If we're able to keep track of that, especially to cite local businesses, it seems we should be able to pass a special law to take care of these problems we are having with drug abusers," Greiner said.
Claudio Sandoval, a one-time student of Greiner's, said his sister was injured by broken glass on the beach and hasn't had the courage to try surfing again.
Residents said the city's recent touting of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center and Warriors basketball arena stand in stark contrast to areas nearby that are prone to crime. A homeless man was beaten to death near Depot Park 12 days ago.
Council members acknowledged a growing problem and urged residents to attend a Dec. 17 meeting of the public safety committee to discuss the issue. Councilwoman Lynn Robinson, a member of the committee, said she wants residents who were raised here to have the same feeling of safety they did as they grew up.
"You feel like it's been taken away from you inch by inch," Robinson said. "I want you to know you are dealing with people who have that same personal experience" and want to find solutions.
Councilman Ryan Coonerty said the city has taken numerous steps in recent years to improve public safety, including restrictions on aggressive panhandling, greater accountability of social service providers that receive city money and the addition of private security guards downtown.
But, he said, "we need a culture change. There is a tolerance for drugs (in Santa Cruz) that has an impact on this community in profound ways. It ruins a lot of people's lives."
Resident Peter Cook agreed the underlying problem is addiction.
"That element is here and is looking to target the youth," he told the council. "It really ruins a lot of the effort you guys put in, whether it's homeless services or building a beautiful city, when we allow this element to come in."
Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant, who is expected to be named mayor Dec. 11, said she is committed "for the long haul" to reducing crime. But she said residents have to stay engaged beyond public meetings.
"I really want to work together," she said. "It's just the start of a bigger conversation."
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports
IF YOU GO
PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE
WHAT: Santa Cruz City Council committee will discuss growing problem with drugs, homeless camps and other crimes on the Westside and in the beach area.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17
WHERE: Council Chamber, 809 Center St.