What projects are on the horizon to improve traffic flow and safety in the San Lorenzo Valley?
Highway 9 is the main traffic corridor of the San Lorenzo Valley, running through and connecting the communities of Felton, Ben Lomond, Brookdale, and Boulder Creek. Because it is a state highway, under the jurisdiction of Caltrans rather than the County Department of Public Works, it also creates special challenges for our communities.
Earlier this year, over the course of a series of town plan meetings, residents of each of the towns said that Highway 9 issues were chief among issues they would like addressed. In response, we formed a Highway 9 corridor advocacy group to address those concerns.
In September a coalition of political, business, and community leaders convened on a chartered Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (Metro) bus to identify trouble spots and areas in need of infrastructure improvements. Among the group were representatives of Caltrans, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, Metro, chambers of commerce and business associations, the County Public Works Department, the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, and my office.
We worked to identify both easily achievable projects like landscaping, tree removal, lighting, painting, and striping, as well as longer-term projects that will require planning and more funding, such as bicycle and pedestrian paths.
Foremost on the list of projects are a series of traffic and safety improvements in front of San Lorenzo Valley High School. Caltrans plans new reflective striping, widening at the “waiting spots,” and overhead pedestrian crosswalk beacons. Meanwhile, Metro has plans to improve the bus shelters and install a bus pass vending machine that will offer discounts to passengers and shorten the time for passengers to get on and off the bus. Caltrans, Metro, and school district staff are working together to coordinate the improvements.
Residents are also working with my office and Caltrans to identify and replace street signs. Improvements are being considered for the Metro stop in Boulder Creek. We are also coordinating work to replace streetlights.
What is the state of the issue of homelessness in your district, particularly in downtown Felton, and whaT plans are there to address it?
The 2013 Census of Homeless in Santa Cruz County estimated there are about 160 unsheltered homeless in the San Lorenzo Valley, out of a total of 3,500 countywide. This is a 30 percent increase across the county over the past two years. More than four in five were unsheltered, with 54 percent living on the street and in encampments and 28 percent living in vehicles.
Like elsewhere in the county, most of the unsheltered homeless people in the San Lorenzo Valley have a disabling condition, such as mental illness, alcohol or drug addiction, or a developmental disability. They are most visible in downtown Felton where there are several hangout spots. There are more methamphetamine and heroin addicts than in the past; there are also more young addicts.
We have a very active volunteer group in Felton that works weekly, if not daily, cleaning garbage and debris from encampments. This group works in conjunction with the homeless and the Sheriff’s Office to give notice as to when encampments will be removed. My office is also participating in the Santa Cruz Public Safety Citizen Taskforce and the Smart Solutions to Homelessness. I look forward to hearing their recommendations.
Because both homelessness and crime are strongly linked to substance abuse, prevention and treatment are crucial, especially intervention programs in schools. Santa Cruz County has many wonderful programs, but they are insufficiently funded.
At the same time, I would like to see more emphasis on personal accountability in the treatment programs and services provided. For instance, those who seek services should have proof of residency so that we take care of our own residents first.
Preventing homelessness is also essential. We need to focus both on providing the outreach and services needed—such as rent and mortgage assistance and employment—to keep people sheltered as the front line in preventing homelessness.