By Joe Livernois
The homeless people who populate the Ross Encampment in downtown Santa Cruz are fighting efforts to clear the area, filing a federal lawsuit in San Jose last week.
City officials say they don’t want to clear the camp just yet, but would like to perform a safety cleanup at the high-profile homeless gathering spot that popped up about six months ago. Ross Encampment got its name because it backs up to the Santa Cruz Ross Dress for Less store at the Gateway Center. Advocates say that the city should do nothing until secure housing can be found for the 200 people who now make their homes in the tents at the encampment.
According to the lawsuit, residents “reasonably fear that once the cleanup begins, most or all of them will be unable or not allowed to return. Instead they will be scattered around the city and beyond where they will be vulnerable to the elements, police harassment and violent acts by those who do not want the homeless to be in Santa Cruz.”
The encampment sprung up in November after the city shut down the 1220 River Street shelter. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they moved to the empty lot alongside Gateway because there is safety in numbers.
“The camp has been a blessing to people living on the streets in that it’s a way to stabilize their lives,” said Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs, which has been working with the homeless, during a press conference last week announcing the lawsuit.
The homeless problem has stirred tensions in Santa Cruz downtown for years, and the Ross Encampment has heightened the emotions. Earlier this week, someone with the screen name “Team Mosquito” set up a GoFundMe page to seek $3,000 to purchase and install a Mosquito device near the camp. A Mosquito emits high-frequency tones and are generally used by businesses to keep young people from loitering outside.
Alicia Kuhl, a homeless advocate in Santa Cruz, referred to the GoFundMe effort as a “terrorist threat.” As of Wednesday, no one has donated money to Team Mosquito’s cause.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Councilman Drew Glover is hosting an Easter celebration at the encampment on Sunday afternoon. The event will include food, music and Easter egg dying.
And a forum about the encampment is scheduled Wednesday at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz. Representatives for and against the encampment are invited to attend. The debate is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and Wes White of the Salinas/Monterey County Homeless Union will facilitate the meeting.
About a dozen elected Monterey County officials are starting to gather regularly, with a focus on affordable housing in what is quickly becoming one of the least affordable places to live in the country.
The group, many of them recently elected progressive city council members, gathered in Del Rey Oaks early this week under what they are calling the Monterey Peninsula Housing Coalition. Monterey Councilman Tyller Williamson posted photographs of the group on Facebook, adding that “we’re working hard to develop solutions on our local housing crisis.”
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In addition to Williamson, the coalition includes Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado, Monterey Councilman Alan Haffa, Seaside Councilman Jon Wizard, Carmel Councilman Jeff Baron, Pacific Grove Councilwoman Jenny McAdams and Marina Councilman Adam Urrutia. Also with the group are Wendy Root Askew, a Monterey Peninsula Unified School District trustee who is running for Monterey County supervisor next year, for a seat that is currently occupied by her boss, Supervisor Jane Parker.
Their first meeting was led by Matthew Huerta, a consultant who specializes in housing issues.
Kevin Dayton, a local political consultant who works with area chambers of commerce, predicted on social media that the group would eventually form a new agency, composed of local governments and private businesses to acquire properties or build affordable housing for employees in what he called “a dramatic & audacious vision.”
By the way, an analysis released by apartmentlist.com last week shows that apartment dwellers in Fremont would have to earn about $150,000 annually to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Fremont is apparently the highest rental market in the nation, even more expensive than San Francisco.
None of the Monterey Bay cities were included in the apartmentlist.com study, but based on the numbers it produced for other regions (and all else being equal), a renter in Monterey would need to earn about $108,000 to afford a median two-bedroom. Salinas renters would need just a bit less than that, while Santa Cruz would have to make about $123,000. That’s all according to the latest rental numbers from zillow.com, which tracks real estate trends in the country.
Meanwhile, a couple of proposals to circumvent existing regulations and environmental reviews to encourage low-cost housing projects are knocking around Sacramento these days.
Last week, Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, introduced legislation to streamline the approval process for farmworker housing developments. In announcing his bill, AB 1783, Rivas referred to the housing issue in blunt terms: “We have a humanitarian crisis in our farmworker communities.” His bill has the support of the United Farm Workers union.
As proposed, AB 1783 would allow developers of housing for agricultural workers to get “ministerial approval” from local governments — and not a more involved conditional use permit — “if certain requirements are met.”
At the same time, Assembly Bill 143 would change existing laws to allow certain cities and counties that declare themselves in a “shelter crisis” to circumvent building regulations and environmental analysis.
That bill, co-authored by several Santa Clara County state legislators, would only apply to specific cities and counties, including Santa Clara and Alameda counties, and cities like Berkeley, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose. No jurisdiction in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties are included. Housing advocates say that regulations and environmental analyses drive up the costs of construction and delay the work of building of affordable housing.
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