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News Briefs: Safety in Numbers, When a Tree Falls

Watsonville will vote on Measure G, Heritage tree on chopping block in Santa Cruz

Safety in Numbers

Although crime rates have decreased across the county—with Watsonville experiencing the greatest decline of all local jurisdictions—since 2006, according to the most recent Community Assessment Project Report, Watsonville’s electorate will vote on a sales tax increase to fund public safety initiatives in the upcoming June 3 election.

If passed, Measure G would temporarily raise the sales tax to 9 percent, making it the highest in the county. (Santa Cruz and Capitola’s are at 8.75 percent.) Supporters estimate the half-percent increase would generate approximately $20 million over the next seven years, to be split 60-40 between the police and fire departments, respectively.

The funds would be used for increasing police and firefighting staff, updating equipment and fire stations, and bolstering successful prevention and intervention programs such as the Police Activities League and “Roads to Success,” an alternative to incarceration program for youth offenders that partners participants and their parents with counseling and community services. Last year, out of 100 youth who participated, only five reoffended, according to Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano. Thirty percent of the police department’s portion of Measure G-generated funds would go toward these types of programs.

While Solano says recent crime numbers show some “good signs” for public safety in the city, the department has lost seven sworn officers and even more civilian positions due to hiring freezes and layoffs over the last 10 years, taking the department from a high of 75 sworn officers to the current 63. Compared to other Central Coast municipalities, he says, Watsonville has the lowest officer-to-population ratio, greater only than Salinas’. The police department also continues to be impacted by citywide Friday furloughs due to budgetary constraints. A survey sample of registered voters conducted earlier this year showed support for the sales tax increase. Should it pass—which would require a two-thirds majority of votes—a revenue oversight committee made up of community members will ensure funds are used for its intended purpose. | Roseann Hernandez

When a Tree Falls

“It’s just beginning to bloom, and I’m going to be so sad to see it go,” Gillian Greensite says, arching her back and peering up at the red horse chestnut tree above her. “Beautiful tree.”

Greensite made an effort to save the tree in question, which is slated to get torn down along with the Unity Temple, but it might have been too little, too late.

This 100-plus-year-old red horse chestnut tree is the largest of three in Santa Cruz. As for whether or not it could have been saved, it depends on who you ask.

City council approved a plan to demolish the church on Broadway for a Hyatt hotel in 2011 and a modification to that plan last January. Also in January, council approved a three-month window for activists like Greensite to find experts who said the heritage tree could be saved (or moved) and if it was even—contrary to both the developer and city staff’s analysis—healthy enough to be worth transferring elsewhere.

Greensite got to work and convinced two arborists, one from nearby and another from Texas, to come take a look. Both stressed the tree’s “excellent health.”

Barrie Coate from Los Gatos wrote in a report for Greensite that the tree was “producing new vegetative and flowering shoots over the entire canopy, demonstrating excellent vigor.” Coate recommended keeping the tree where it stands, though, and said there would be enough space for it to coexist with the new hotel. 

David Cox, who flew out from Tomball, Texas, said the tree was sturdy enough to be moved, but it wouldn’t come cheap, especially because power lines lie in the way. | Jacob Pierce

That raises the question of where to put it. City staff has said there isn’t room in any city park—a point Greensite disputes.

The developer, who doesn’t know when she will break ground, hasn’t shown any interest in moving the tree, which she has a special permit to remove. And Greensite, who is on a fixed income, didn’t raise any funds to do so, either. | Jacob Pierce 

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