The future of Santa Cruz’s homeless policy is going to be guided by a new committee. It’s called the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, and it was created on Tuesday night by the Santa Cruz City Council. We break down what you need to know about Tuesday’s meeting, including a proposal for rental housing data collection and the city’s new 5G cell tower policy. Plus, some news about Santa Cruz Local.

The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday formed a new committee that will lead short- and long-term policy on homelessness solutions. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

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I’m Kara Meyberg Guzman. And this is Santa Cruz Local.

The future of Santa Cruz’s homeless policy is going to be guided by a new committee. It’s called the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, and it was created on Tuesday night by the Santa Cruz City Council. Eleven members were chosen from a pool of 52 applicants.

The committee is partly a response to a homeless camp that started near River Street earlier this year. The camp has since been cleaned up and relocated, but many questions remain.

Stephen Baxter, you saw the council approve the committee. Who’s on the committee and what’s it trying to do?

Stephen Baxter: Let’s start with who’s on the committee.

There’s a person with experience with drug and alcohol treatment. There’s another person has dealt with homeless veterans. Another person represents health care services, another business, another mental health. And there’s also a homeless advocate.

The council wants the new committee to build on some of the studies that city has done before about homelessness. And the committee is supposed to have its first meeting soon and meet for about six months to a year.

KMG: What are some of its goals?

SB: It’s supposed to have three phases:

  • The first phase involves listening to the homeless community. The group is supposed to get more educated about the causes of homelessness and some barriers to housing.
  • And the second phase is to make some short-term policy recommendations to the council. Things like where to put a navigation center, and whether and where to have a transitional camp. And it’s also supposed to include policies on things like public bathrooms in the city.
  • And the third phase addresses some long-term goals on homelessness, say 15 to 20 years out. The committee should discuss a master plan for the Coral Street “campus” as they called it — which is where the Homeless Services Center is. And they also want to bring in the county and the state more on the issue.

KMG: And we heard on Tuesday night from some critics that say this committee is going to be the same old thing. That the city hasn’t done enough with their previous reports on homelessness. But to be fair, in the past two years, the city has helped create the Downtown Streets program. That employs the homeless people picking up trash around the city. And the city has funded the Homeward Bound bus ticket program that sends homeless people back home. And they’ve done other things.

Santa Cruz resident Keith McHenry, who advocates for homeless people, tells the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday why he’s skeptical of a new homelessness committee. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

SB: Yeah, but there’s still work to be done on the city’s plans from two years ago.

For example, the city hasn’t made much progress on that proposed navigation center for the homeless, like the one in San Francisco. And some local nonprofit leaders say that our housing crisis is making the problem worse.

They’re finding homes for people, but they can’t keep up with the number of people who are becoming homeless.

KMG: So, how did the votes land?

SB: It was a 4-3 vote. Vice Mayor Justin Cummings, Mayor Martine Watkins and Councilmembers Donna Meyers and Cynthia Mathews approved the committee.

Councilmembers Sandy Brown and Drew Glover said they were unhappy that there was not a homeless person on the committee. They voted against it because it didn’t require a currently homeless person on the committee.

Here’s Councilmember Sandy Brown.

SANDY BROWN: This is a really important time for us to be making critical decisions and coming up with creative, innovative ways to address these issues. And I really believe that the only way that’s going to happen is if people who are experiencing homelessness now in our community are fully at the table.

SB: There is at least one person on the committee who has been homeless and could speak to the experience.

Also a former city councilman, Ed Porter, also spoke up from the audience about the need to include a homeless person who’s gotten off the streets. Here’s what he said:

ED PORTER: I think that tonight in this action you should add two more seats to the group. And choose, not necessarily homeless people, because they’re stressed already — they don’t need the stress of a city committee, I don’t think. But people that have gone through the Homeless Services Center, and maybe worked at the Homeless Garden [Project] and then got employment and then got housing. Those are people who succeeded with the help of the City of Santa Cruz and county, and with the Homeless Services Center and all the social service agencies that are involved and know something to tell this group and I recommend you put on two more seats.

So the council listened to that. They said the new committee members can add two more members who have been homeless or are now homeless. But they’re not required to add those people.

Also, Santa Cruz County officials reported last week that there were about 2,200 homeless in the county. That’s according to a count that was taken in January. They believe that the number of homeless countywide has dropped by nearly 4 percent since 2017.

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KMG: Here’s what else you need to know from Tuesday’s meeting.

For months, the council has wanted to create some policy around protecting tenants. But so far, there hasn’t been any data on things like rent increases and notices to quit.

Notices to quit are when landlords give tenants 30-, 60- or 90-day notices. It’s not a formal court-ordered eviction, but most of the time, tenants leave when they get them. Landlords are not currently required to report notices to quit to the city.

On Tuesday, the city council took a step toward collecting rent and eviction data from landlords and tenants.

Vice Mayor Justin Cummings came up with a last-minute proposal on how that data collection could work. He said it was given to him by community members. But it wasn’t on the agenda so the city council couldn’t really talk about it Tuesday. Instead, it’ll be discussed at the council’s Aug. 13 meeting.

Basically, the proposal would require landlords and owners to report leases, rent increases and notices to quit to the city planning department. We got a copy of that proposal and posted it on our website, santacruzlocal DOT org.

Last thing. The council paved the way for more cellphone towers for 5G cellular service. Federal law doesn’t allow cities much latitude to block cellphone towers.

So, the council decided to assert what little power it could. It approved aesthetic standards to make sure the towers don’t stand out too much. Already, 5G towers are smaller than 4G towers.

City staff estimate that building a 5G network would mean adding around 60 new towers. There is no timeline for when the new towers would be built.

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One last thing. A lot of you have asked us how we fund Santa Cruz Local. Well, we’re a startup, and we’re still bootstrapping right now. But we’re trying to build a sustainable business model to bring you local news. That’s why you heard an ad at the beginning of this episode. And that’s also why, come Aug. 19, we’re going to be launching our first two-week membership drive. We’re excited to tell you about it, and more information will be coming in our next episode and on our website, santacruzlocal DOT org.

That’s also where you can find more information about our newsletter.

Music was by Podington Bear, at soundofpicture DOT com.

I’m Kara Meyberg Guzman. Thanks for listening to Santa Cruz Local.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a list of the finalists for the homelessness committee.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.

[email protected] | Website | + posts

Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.