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Social support not private patrols

If you are concerned about how the City of Santa Cruz has stretched in to hiring private security teams to patrol public open spaces, email the City Council by tonight or show up at the Tuesday 26 February meeting. The Council is going to vote on actually legalizing their own practice, and extending it to allow the private security to patrol the public beaches. Read on for some of my thoughts on this matter.

Here in Santa Cruz, we have this … interesting process used by the City to impose some kind of control on the river levee.

Because we have totally failed as a city population to make the beautiful river levee into a destination for people – there are no food carts, no cafe tables, no benches, no vista points, no attractive plantings, no shade structures, no art, no population of hipster-intellectual-professional-slackers to make the place look cool – the levee instead becomes the quiet, hidden place for all the street people to hang out. (There is a long history as to why we ignore this treasure in the middle of our city, and continuing to allow private security teams to drive patrol cars is not any help to solving that.)

The City’s solution is to hire private security guards to drive up and down the levee. I’ve never seen them do anything other than drive. I can’t imagine what they can do from inside of their vehicle. I just know that my dog and I have to stop and step out of their way as they squeeze through spaces where only emergency service vehicles should ever go. I go on the levee all the time, and I find the private security patrols to be as bothersome to my use of the open space as any of the street people, travellers, and derelicts who hang out there.

People who are enjoying the river levee, regardless of their purpose or background, have the same legal rights of being there. At least, during daylight hours and out of the sections the local Parks Department has closed for “rehabilitation”, which is admittedly their way of making it illegal to be there so they can give tickets to trespassers-on-public-green-space. I have friends who have been ticketed for picnicking on this closed space. I’ve been verbally warned for walking my dog on the levee after dark when it is “closed”. The command and control exerted over this open public space has the effect of further reducing the enjoyability for everyone.

It turns out that the private patrols don’t currently have a legal right to drive there, which the City Council is considering changing. Here is a letter from City Council member Micah Posner to the local Nextdoor group.

Several of you have mentioned a dislike of First Alarm trucks driving on the levees. I always wondered how they were authorized to do that without permission from the City Council. As it turns out there is a city ordinance that limits cars/trucks on parks and beaches to maintenance and emergency vehicles. This ordinance is on the agenda on Tuesday at 3PM with a proposed change that would allow First Alarm and other vehicles contracted by the city to drive in parks and on the beach. This would be an excellent time for people to send emails AND come to the meeting if you have an opinion about these vehicles driving on parks and beaches. Send emails (by Monday evening) to

Regardless of where you personally stand on the issues of street people in Santa Cruz, I think we can all agree on a few things:

  • Santa Cruz really is mostly populated and controlled by the people who live here with legal residences and generally contribute to the tax base.
  • Changing the laws to reduce the rights of a small population affects all of us.
    • For example, in the City of Santa Cruz, if you are on your lunch break and take a snooze on a park bench after eating, you are in violation of the law. There is a ban on public sleeping that was put in place as a focus on a specific population, but it is binding for all people.
  • If you are going to accept your rights being reduced, you should know about it (be informed) and really consider the implications. Are you really going to be more secure?
  • Money spent on patrols that sweep street people around (“million-dollar broom” is an accurate term, budget-wise) doesn’t solve any of the problems that keep these people on the street. When people need help, they benefit more from social workers than another night in jail.

Thus I’d rather see us pay social workers to walk around the levee solving problems for people who get lost in three-letter-agency bureacracy. I would rather not see us pay private security patrols to drive around getting in the way of every citizen’s right to enjoy the open space free of car exhaust in our faces.

I encourage all of you to write the City Council and let them know what you think.