City on a Hill Press hosted a forum for Santa Cruz City Council candidates at the Student Media Center to discuss university expansion, police accountability, housing and other issues affecting UC Santa Cruz students.
*Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity
Given the recent controversies surrounding Sean Arlt’s death, do you believe the current training of Santa Cruz Police Department officers is adequate?
“There’s always more that can be done. I think what we can say is that our police department training, in general, its training program and its training in dealing with those with mental illness, exhibiting mental illness, far exceeds the standards. What we really take from this really tragic incident was that there has been a failure of the mental health system, and I think that’s what’s going to come out in the investigation. I hope that the independent investigation shows us how we can do better, and we will do that.”
“Ultimately, I think it is about how do we prevent tragedies like that from happening in the first place. I always try to talk about juvenile justice prevention programs and alternatives. [21st Century Policing Practices Model] lays out very specific things. It has a community involvement process, it has a review process, it has a number of stakeholders at the table working with law enforcement to look at how we can identify the things that are going well and are aligned with what the recommendations for those practices are. But then, in addition, how we can always look for continuous improvement and do better? I was really inspired and hopeful that we could potentially look at that as a tool or formal adoption at the city level.”
“What I’d say about this whole incident is we should have more of our law enforcement officers using rubber bullets and other non-lethal weapons. Simply put, if we do end up letting officers keep guns with real bullets that could kill, it should be the high-ranking officers that get those and the lower-ranking officers, again, rubber bullets.”
“We need better mental health infrastructure, and I think the way we do that is we partner, in particular with the sheriff’s office, but also with our public health agencies at a countywide level to provide long-term mental health treatment. One of the things I really want to see our police department adopt is something our sheriff’s department has adopted in line with the 21st Century Policing [Model] is having body cameras. You got to have the body cameras because that provides the most objective view, and it will allow us to better assess situations like this.”
“I was on the city council from 1998-2002, and we did have a police review board at that time and I supported it. A police review board is a good thing for police and also for the community because there’s a place to go. Right now, when you make a complaint you have to go to the police station to make that complaint, and it’s rather intimidating for a lot of people. Having a review board would help in a situation like this where you have an officer-involved shooting. As far as training of Santa Cruz police officers, unless one of us up here was a police officer, it would be very difficult for us to comment on that.”
Are you in favor of the town’s current sleeping ordinance ban? Why or why not?
“The end to houselessness is housing. I think the sleeping ban gets a lot of attention in this conversation, but it doesn’t actually lead to any long-term solutions. And when I say housing is the end to homelessness, I’m talking about a wide range of housing. We need to start with permanent supportive housing, as a transition from homelessness that leads hopefully to independent housing that is affordable for people. And we need ongoing case management for people who used to be homeless that not only deals with potentially co-occurring substance abuse and mental health that’s not being addressed properly, but also providing job training and other services that are designed to be stabilizing in their lives.”
“I think it’s irresponsible. It’s been found to be unconstitutional by the Department of Justice, looking into refusing people the right to sleep. Beyond the fact that it is noncompassionate and unconstitutional, it’s a really great symbol of the way the city currently operates with regards to houseless and homeless individuals, led under the leadership of individuals that are currently sitting on council and have been there for a while now. It shows that instead of looking at ways to increase services, increase resources and increase upward mobility for marginalized people in our community, we would rather criminalize them.”
“I actually view it as just somewhat of a necessary evil. I mean it goes along the lines of the no trespassing and no loitering laws. And what I mean by that is if we let anybody and everybody sleep absolutely anywhere they want to, right in the middle of the sidewalk or whatever, that we’re gearing for a bunch of trouble there. But, at the same time, what is really important is we need to have dedicated areas in the city parks and so on and so forth where people can legally sleep.”
“I actually agree with Nathanael that it’s not just about ending the ban, it’s about having positive designated places for people to sleep. It’s miserable out there on this cold rainy morning. It’s violent. People have stuff stolen, and women on the street face extreme levels of sexual violence. That’s true for the people out there, and it’s also true that some unhoused people have negative impacts on our parks and sidewalks and neighborhoods, and so I’m interested in finding positive solutions, finding designated camping and parking areas.”
If elected, or re-elected, do you support buying the Beach Flats Garden from the Seaside company by means of eminent domain, why or why not?
“I don’t commit to that process at that point because I don’t think that may be necessary, and it’s not the only way to achieve a garden for the Beach Flats area. There are a lot of ways to achieve [a Beach Flats garden], and it may be, in some way, that the Seaside company brings forward that could negotiate a result, rather than a legally contentious one. That’s the direction that I would like to see. I think we ought to have the opportunity for more community gardens. They’re wonderful. They really do build community. So no, I am not gonna commit to eminent domain. I think that is an expensive and contentious procedure that may achieve the goal, and I think the goal can be achieved better and more fully through different means.”
“There is so much to talk about with this specific issue, but the short answer is yes. I would, if elected, explore using eminent domain to acquire the garden. It is a cultural landmark in Santa Cruz that has been the home of indigenous gardening practices for the past 20 years. And well, it was donated by the Seaside company, the only reason it was because the community itself took it upon itself to de-slum the parcel of property and turn it into a vibrant garden. It provides an organic garden, organic vegetables for the entire community that exists in a literal food desert where the closest grocery store where they can get fresh food is over a mile away and not accessible through public transit.”
“We need to, and we have the time to negotiate what that’s going to look like over the next couple of years, with the gardeners and the Seaside company, everyone gets a seat at the table. I feel like eminent domain would lead to expensive and unnecessary law suits, and it’s city money that could actually fund desperately needed parks programs. We also have a parks master plan process that is also in place right now and Beach Flats garden should be considered as part of that process.”
“I think talking about [eminent domain] in this case is not inappropriate. These are people who have committed their lives to continuing their cultural practices, growing their own food and they are living in a place that is a food desert. It’s not just about the garden. It’s about what people get to do with their property and the people who live on that property, and [how they] try to do their best to survive [and] what they experience on a day to day basis.”
How should the university work with the city in regards to the housing crisis and university expansion?
“The main thing is to work with one another, and I have worked with the chancellor this past year with loosening up some of the state restrictions on how campus housing is provided and also initiated a workforce housing committee jointly with the university, city, county and local school districts. So that’s an active participation. The other thing we need to do is tackle the housing situation overall in the city, and certainly the housing crunch here affects students. It affects every single sector of our community, so I think the main thing is to look for opportunities to do more housing on campus [and] to be more flexible in financing because that’s one of the real constraints.”
“The mayor [Cynthia Mathews] just referred to some offline conversation that she might have had with the chancellor. The community has to be brought into this conversation. And it can’t happen ad hoc. It’s got to be a conversation with the community, with the students, and people have to be brought into it. I think that something like the trailer park is wildly popular that could be easy transition housing on campus. We could set up several trailer parks. I think the next city council has to look at a lot of different options but has to work with the university on this issue and has to demand more from the university.”
“I have not talked to one student or staff member who thinks they have stability and the ability to continue to live in this town. And that, to me, is a huge issue of concern. I think there are lots of things that the city can do to negotiate better with the university. One [way to negotiate] is around access to water on campus, and I’m not saying I want to shut off water for the students. I’m saying that the university needs to accept the fact that the city has some role to play in the decisions it makes.”
“The housing situation in Santa Cruz is pressured from all angles, from all aspects, so it’s really important to think about it holistically where we’re at — for working families, to the role the university plays, to the students, to all kinds of folks that are living here in Santa Cruz. For me looking at the policies that are multi-pronged, to really look at those types of relationships with the university, with other types of developers, with all folks, so we can come together to the best solutions.”