Online dashboards for Sheriff’s Office, county planning department
County staff on Tuesday showed drafts of online data visualizations due to launch next week for the Sheriff’s Office and the county’s Planning Department.
Sheriff Jim Hart said data would be charted for things like property crime, violent crime and other figures already published as tables on a Sheriff’s Office website. New automated charts will help identify crime trends, Hart said.
Other charts are expected to show data on things like the race or ethnicity of drivers stopped by sheriff’s deputies. A chart displayed at Tuesday’s meeting showed more than 30% of Hispanic and Latino drivers were stopped, compared with about 34% of the county’s population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino. “We can also look at this data over time to better see trends and identify where we might want to adjust our training,” Hart said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Separately, an online data dashboard is expected from the county’s Planning Department. It could show the number of permits issued for housing and other projects in the past 12 months, as well as the median turnaround time.
Several supervisors said they appreciated the new dashboards’ transparency. Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said he hoped a future dashboard could help track the county’s carbon emissions. Supervisor Zach Friend essentially said he hoped that department staff would use the data to improve services and service times.
Supervisor Manu Koenig said the dashboards could help improve management of public services.
“You don’t know if you’re moving the needle unless you have a needle,” Koenig said.
Sheriff Jim Hart on Tuesday showed a preview of part of an online dashboard that will help track data on crime and deputies’ work. The dashboard is set to launch next week. (County of Santa Cruz screenshot)
A preview of part of an online dashboard shows data on the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped by Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies. (County of Santa Cruz screenshot)
County planning staff showed a mockup of an online dashboard that tracks permit times in the county. Staff said the figures here are preliminary. (County of Santa Cruz screenshot)
Public defender transition on track for July
As Santa Cruz County transitions from a private law firm as the county’s public defender to a county-run public defender, leaders said many attorneys have been hired by the county and the hope is to hire all of them by the transition’s completion July 1.
Santa Cruz County Public Defender Heather Rogers told county supervisors on Tuesday that the county public defender also is hiring new investigators and support staff. Defendants are expected to keep their court-appointed attorneys during the transition, Rogers said.
County leaders have discussed a transition since 2020. Although supervisors and others have said the law firm of Biggam, Christensen and Minsloff and other firms have performed well as the contracted public defenders in Santa Cruz County for years, Santa Cruz and other counties have moved toward county-employee public defenders to improve accountability and transparency. Contracted public defenders in other places have not adequately represented clients in part because they have a financial incentive to cut costs, consultants have said.
“This is a historic moment for Santa Cruz County as we work together to open our first public defense agency,” Rogers said Tuesday. “It’s our vision to lead the charge in transforming public defense to empower those we serve by honoring their experiences, amplifying their voices, and offering real solutions to the root causes of (justice) system involvement.”
Watsonville Community Hospital acquisition
Supervisors on Tuesday approved that the county spend $5 million toward the acquisition and operation of Watsonville Community Hospital if the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project is the successful bidder for public ownership of the hospital. A judge is expected to open bids on Feb. 17, according to a county staff report. The hospital’s price is not yet clear.
- The Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project aims to create a new health care district to acquire and operate the 106-bed Watsonville Community Hospital. A majority stake of its ownership is now controlled by Australian hedge fund Macquarie Asset Management. County leaders have said that the hospital’s administration has changed 21 times in the past 20 years.
- Supervisors on Tuesday praised the planned acquisition of the hospital. Supervisor Zach Friend said the hospital provides “absolutely necessary services to people, in particular those on MediCal in the South County.”
- Supervisor Bruce McPherson said, “Without this hospital, our other regional providers would be absolutely overwhelmed.”
- The supervisors in 2021 authorized $500,000 to contribute to an “analysis of the feasibility of forming a healthcare district for the express purpose of purchasing Watsonville Community Hospital,” wrote Dana McRae, interim director of the Health Services Agency, in a county staff report.
- Watsonville Community Hospital is expected to continue services during the potential sale. A sale likely would be completed through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Live Oak coast parking program eliminated
County supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to eliminate a 40-year coastal parking permit program that was paused last year amid debate. A second reading to officially kill the program is set for the supervisors’ Feb. 1 meeting.
- The program was intended to reduce parking problems from Memorial Day to Labor Day near Live Oak beaches, and give access for visitors and residents.
- The program was suspended by the supervisors in April after residents and California Coastal Commission said it was unnecessary. A Coastal Commission letter stated that the program violated the California Coastal Act, limited coastal access and had fees too high for visitors.
- Matt Machado, the county’s director of public works, essentially said at Tuesday’s meeting that the permit program lacked community support.
- Supervisor Manu Koenig, who represents Live Oak, said that deputies’ summer enforcement of scofflaws like blocked driveways has been more effective than permits in solving parking problems. He said the permits could be revived with a new law if things change.