SANTA CRUZ -- More than 120 residents packed a meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council Public Safety Committee on Monday night to offer solutions to problems with transients, drugs and trash.
The meeting follows residents' recent discoveries of syringes and trash at Cowell Beach, the Westside railroad tracks and along the San Lorenzo River.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel said he responded by adding a police officer and First Alarm guard to patrol during the day at Cowell Beach, Depot Park, the West Cliff trestle and other areas where transients have gathered to shoot up drugs and leave garbage. The officer and guard started Dec. 10.
Vogel said he also added an officer to respond to calls during the peak time for calls for service, from noon to 8 p.m. daily.
"We have been responsive and we're moving forward to make things better," Vogel said.
Many residents at the meeting, such as Linda Cover, said they wanted more "sharps" containers for discarded needles, more trash cans and more restrooms. Cover, who lives at the Tannery Arts Center, said she participated in cleanups and often found human waste.
"We're very concerned for our children," Cover told the committee, which includes City Council members David Terrazas, Lynn Robinson and Don Lane.
Deborah Elston, president of Santa Cruz Neighbors and a group that cleans the San Lorenzo River levee, also said human waste from transients was a big problem.
"I really don't have a solution, but obviously it can't go in our waterways," Elston said.
Lane, who made homeless issues a hallmark of his recent tenure as mayor, talked about some reasons that transients arrive in Santa Cruz. The availability and tolerance of drugs, large open spaces, prevalent liquor stores and the County Jail's inmate releases in Santa Cruz all factor in to the problem, he said.
A city staff member said one potential solution to discarded needles might be a city law that only allows retractable needles to be sold or exchanged. Retractable needles would reduce the chance of a bystander being pricked.
Save Our Shores Executive Director Laura Kasa reminded residents that her group has been doing beach cleanups for 30 years. Because police want untrained residents to call police rather than handle needles, Save Our Shores offered to train people to pick up sharps such as needles. The group also recently started a new extreme team of cleanup volunteers.
Analicia Cube, co-founder of Take Back Santa Cruz, offered many solutions -- including new permits and fees for needle sellers and distributors. She also wanted police to pay more attention to bike thefts, which she said fuels the drug trade.
Many bikes and bike parts have been found in transients' drug camps.
"We want a message that Santa Cruz will no longer tolerate this behavior," Cube said.
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