SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday will weigh a raft of recommendations from its Public Safety Committee in response to community outrage over illegal campsites, drug dens and needles discarded on the beach.
The three-member committee voted Jan. 29 to recommend the council allow city staff to work with county health officials and volunteer providers to reform a needle exchange program that was shut down two weeks ago because the city deemed it a code violation. City officials want the county to manage the program and restrict exchanges to a one-to-one basis.
Scott Collins, assistant to the city manager, said the talks would examine a distribution model, location, hours of operation and ways to reduce any negative impacts. The city will require a permit if the future location is within city limits.
"There will be an extensive public process for that to be approved," Collins said.
The committee also recommended the council explore adding public sanitation facilities, which would include safe disposal boxes for dirty needles, and increase funding and participation with citizens for cleanups of illegal campsites. The committee also said the police chief should be allowed to fill more officer positions than budgeted to avoid prolonged gaps in the force when vacancies occur.
Collins said it's too early to say how many officers might be hired and at what cost. In the meantime, he said costs incurred by the other
Rama Khalsa, who retired in 2011 as director of the county Health Services Agency, said she supports one-to-one exchanges but isn't convinced the program has to be county run.
"It isn't really who does the program as much as how sensitive and responsible they are," she said. "I understand the neighborhoods don't like these programs but I think they are important."
Khalsa signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with Street Outreach Supporters to provide the volunteer needle exchange, which had taken place outside a laundromat in some form for 24 years. The health department was supposed by state health code to provide annual reports to the Board of Supervisors about the status of exchange program, but that has not for four years.
Khalsa said she did not know why the reports were not made by health officers who worked reported to her at the time.
The county recently acquired a new public health officer, Lisa Hernandez, who has been working on the needle exchange issue already. County officials have not given permission for Street Outreach Supporters to run two weekday exchanges, formerly located at the laundromat, at the county's Emeline Avenue health clinic, where the exchange is currently permitted on Sundays.
Tuesday, the council also will consider how to allocate $25,000 set aside for Homeward Bound, a program that provides bus tickets or other forms of transportation for people who want to return to another community, where friends or family may be able to help them with housing or other services.
The city has recommended giving $16,700 to the Homeless Services Center, $8,000 to two mental health programs and $300 to the County Jail.
The council also will hear a plan to transfer management of meters placed downtown in recent years to collect spare change for the homeless and discourage panhandling. The Downtown Association representing merchants ran the program for a year, but it was plagued by vandalism and a lack of public awareness and business sponsorship, according to a city report.
Project Homeless Connect, sponsor of an annual outreach event for the homeless at the Civic Center, plans to relaunch the Imagine Positive Change campaign featuring eight former city parking meters and use some of the proceeds. It is proposed the revamped meters will feature work by local artists.
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AT A GLANCE
The Santa Cruz City Council will consider Tuesday these recommendations from its Public Safety Committee in response to an increase of discarded needles on area beaches and illegal campsites:
1. Continue discussions with the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, volunteer needle exchange providers and pharmacies to develop best practices for dispensing and collecting needles.
2. Explore the possibility of placing additional sanitation facilities in public location and increase funding for city-led clean-up efforts.
3. Pursue additional partnerships with community organizations and nonprofits to conduct community cleanups of illegal campsites and trash, and provide additional city resources.
4. Pursue cooperation with regional partners, including county agencies to address underlying public safety issues.
5. Explore recruiting and hiring more police officers than the city is currently budgeted for to accommodate future vacancies.
6. Convene a six-month citizen task force that includes two council members to explore underlying public safety concerns and report back with further recommendations.
SOURCE: City of Santa Cruz
If you go
CITY COUNCIL meeting
WHEN: 3 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Council Chamber, 809 Center St.