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Demonstrators march to Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz in August. (Santa Cruz Local file)

SANTA CRUZ >> A busy Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday approved new police reforms to try to improve racial equity, adopted a master plan for development on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, and moved forward with a consultant’s strategy to revive the city’s economy through the pandemic.

The police changes came in response to several local marches for reform after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis in police custody. A group of Black residents, convened by Mayor Justin Cummings, met several times since June and helped steer the policy changes presented by Santa Cruz police Chief Andy Mills on Tuesday. 

Many of the changes are already in place. Some of the 23 changes include:

  • Release of videos of officer-involved shootings within 72 hours, as circumstances allow
  • Examination of hiring practices, such as the consideration of poor credit and the prohibition of branding, which is body art similar to a tattoo. Those hiring practices may unfairly limit eligibility of applicants of color, Mills said. 
  • The collection and distribution of data on stops made by police
  • Improvement of diversity training for police and city staff
  • A study to understand why people of color are disproportionately represented in Santa Cruz County Jail.

“I say this clearly for everybody: Black lives matter,” said Mills. “There’s no equivocation or minimization of that statement.”

The council voted 6-0 to support the changes, with Councilmember Katherine Beiers absent. Beiers attended most of the online meeting but left during the night session without explanation.

NAACP Santa Cruz County President Brenda Griffin was part of a panel of local Black leaders that helped Mills present the changes Tuesday. During the meeting, Griffin asked Mills to include a policy that requires the police department to publish data on use of force. Cummings supported Griffin’s idea.

Mills said, “Certainly at the council’s pleasure we could report out to the public safety committee or to the full council, whatever your choice might be, on the data concerning the use of force.”

Police officers are required to submit forms to their superiors that report each time force is used. Each instance requires review by the supervising officer, Mills said in a previous council meeting.

In June, Santa Cruz Local filed two Public Records Act requests for data related to those forms. The city staff responded by email that they would only disclose records “if the incident resulted in ‘death or great bodily injury’.” Santa Cruz Local’s request yielded one record: data related to the fatal shooting of Sean Arlt in 2016.

The motion approved by the council Tuesday did not require the police department to report use of force data to the public safety committee or the council. Instead, it asked Mills to report to the council “on the potential to improve collection of [statistics] on various measures.”

About 16 people spoke during public comment, many of whom urged stronger reforms, including versions of defunding the police.

Resident Jace Ritchey said, “Chief Mills said he’s found the middle path for our community to come together, between those who deny racism and those who seek to eradicate it. I cannot believe that we’re settling for the middle path when we’ve spent a year of travesty watching time and time again the exact actions that he’s proposing fail to actually materially protect community members across this country.”

Separately, the council voted 6-0 with Beiers absent to advance a new law that would outlaw racially-motivated or discriminatory police reports and allow people who have been unfairly reported to police to seek restitution. The proposal is modeled after a similar law in San Francisco.

  • The law makes it illegal to call police against someone “on the basis of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, national origin, place of birth, sex, age, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, or height” with an intent to harass or remove that person from a place where they are lawfully allowed.
  • Violators may be liable for $1,000 in damages plus attorneys’ fees. It is up to the aggrieved person to file a civil suit, which could be in small claims court.
Wharf Master Plan

The council voted 5-2 to adopt a master plan which will guide any potential expansion of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf for the next two to three decades. The council also approved the accompanying environmental impact report.

Cummings, Vice Mayor Donna Meyers and Councilmembers Cynthia Mathews, Martine Watkins and Renee Golder were in favor. Councilmembers Katherine Beiers and Sandy Brown voted against it.

  • City staff said approval of the Wharf Master Plan opens more grant opportunities for repairs. An estimated $11.6 million of repairs are needed, according to an engineering report.
  • The plan calls for an expansion of the wharf by about 2.5 acres, including:
    • A new promenade on the wharf’s east side and a new walkway below the main level on the west side
    • Three new public buildings, totaling 15,000 square feet
    • Two new boat landings
    • Structural improvements to the pilings
    • Relocation of the wharf entrance and more parking

(Screenshots of Santa Cruz Wharf Master Plan — Roma Design Group)

About 15 community members called during public comment, mostly to oppose parts of the plan, such as the “Landmark building,” a proposed public building at the wharf’s end, and what they said was an excessive building height.

Resident Gillian Greensite is a leader of the community group Don’t Morph the Wharf, which opposes the proposed western walkway and the Landmark building. She said the group supports wharf repairs.

“What the community is against is changing the character, the feel, the aesthetics of the wharf, changing its place in our heart,” Greensite said. “There are parts of the plan that the community can support and parts of it that are strongly opposed.”

Resident Judi Grunstra said, “Repair what needs to be repaired, possibly expand it. But don’t make a slick ugly commercial endeavor of it. It’s fine the way it is. We enjoy the views, the proximity of the ocean and the feel of it.”

Councilmember Brown submitted a motion to remove the Landmark building from the plan and reduce the maximum height from the 40 feet allowed by current zoning to 35 feet. It failed to advance, with only Beiers and Cummings joining Brown in support.

Beiers said the Landmark building would be “totally out of scale.”

Santa Cruz Asset and Development Manager David McCormic said that having the Landmark building in the plan allows the city to seek funding for repairs, especially for the end of the wharf. It is difficult to find grant funding for deferred maintenance, and having a “placeholder” development project improves the city’s odds for receiving money, he said.

Slow Streets program

The council decided to continue a pilot program that places “Road closed to through traffic” signs on some city streets. The aim was to limit cut-through traffic and allow room for pedestrians to keep distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Eleven streets were chosen through an application process. In September, signs and barricades were placed. Neighborhood volunteers were recruited to ensure proper placement. 
  • The program cost nearly $25,000 in staff time and almost $12,000 in signs and materials. The program exceeded its $30,000 budget, which came from Measure D sales tax money. 

Tuesday, the council voted 6-1, with Councilmember Cynthia Mathews against, to direct staff to prepare a request for proposals from nonprofits to administer the program until May, with a budget not to exceed $20,000. The money again would come from Measure D funds. For a street to continue in the program, it must receive signatures of support from a majority of residents on the street.

Interim COVID-19 economic recovery plan

The council unanimously approved a 12-18 month economic recovery plan written by consultant Management Partners with input from city staff and council members. It will guide decisions related to city budget. 

It lists three priorities:

  • Short- and long-term fiscal sustainability
  • Investment in downtown and other business sectors
  • Improvement and maintenance of infrastructure

The plan also lists criteria for the council in considering significant new initiatives during this time period, including:

  • Three council members must sponsor discussion of the item
  • Urgency and available funding
  • Fiscal impact, including amount of revenue raised or costs saved
  • Whether the initiative is mandated by higher levels of government

The plan calls for city staff to track metrics such as:

  • Number of business licenses issued and renewed and businesses closed
  • Number of housing units permitted
  • Revenue from hotel, sales and admissions taxes
  • General fund reserves

The first quarterly report of those metrics is due in April. A 12-18 month work plan is due for council review by February.

Affordable housing law

The council this year increased the number of affordable units that developers are required to build. Developers now need to make 20% of new units available at affordable rates to people with lower incomes. Previously, developers had a 15% requirement.

Tuesday, the council voted 6-1, with Vice Mayor Donna Meyers against, to allow developers to offer 5% of the required affordable units as Section 8 rentals. The Section 8 program, also known as Housing Choice vouchers, is rental assistance for people with low incomes. Families pay about a third of their income to their landlord. The county’s housing authority pays the remainder, up to a limit. 

Rental housing projects of four units or fewer are not subject to these affordability requirements.

Sidewalk vending

Tuesday, the council heard an update on plans to issue permits and guidelines for sidewalk vendors on Beach Street. Sidewalk vending is currently prohibited by an executive order by the council, due to the ongoing COVID emergency, said Santa Cruz Principal Management Analyst Ralph Dimarucut.

The order has drawn protests from some who say it discriminates against the sidewalk vendors who sell food on Beach Street. Most of those vendors are Latino.

Some brick-and-mortar businesses on Beach Street have called for greater control of sidewalk vending, as brick-and-mortar sales have suffered, especially during the pandemic. A recent state law prevents cities from considering competition with brick and mortar businesses as a factor in regulations for sidewalk vending.

Dimarucut said health and safety is the city staff’s priority. Beach Street does not allow much room for distancing on the sidewalk, he said.

The city staff is considering placing permitted sidewalk vendor locations on the deck behind the Ideal Bar and Grill. Cummings asked the staff to limit impact to a group that, before the pandemic, led popular salsa dance nights on the deck.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. NAACP Santa Cruz County President Brenda Griffin did not serve on Mayor Cummings’ committee.

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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.