Santa Cruz dishes out its first annual city report to residents and businesses
The City of Santa Cruz is broke. It’s also anti-business, too strict (or too lenient) with the homeless, is controlled by UC Santa Cruz, and has an unsafe downtown. In Mayor Ryan Coonerty’s eyes, these are the five biggest myths about Santa Cruz.
In part, he believes that these ideas are perpetuated because they are “stories we’ve been telling ourselves for a long time,” that, although untrue, help “simplify the world.” But he also blames them on the city’s poor communication skills. “I don’t think we have done a good job of communicating what we’re doing,” Coonerty says.
He’s been attempting to debunk these myths at his Mayor’s Academy workshops (the last of which is on July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce), and also has a new trick up his sleeve for reaching out to the public: the city’s first ever State of the City report, which will arrive at every city household and licensed business on Friday, June 24.
The six-page report doesn’t focus on the myths, per se, but Coonerty hopes it will help spur a conversation “not about our perceptions, but about what’s actually happening.” He kicks off the report with an optimistic mayoral message and the introduction of the city’s five main goals set forth by its Three-Year Strategic Plan, which was adopted in May. The report is shaped around these goals, and highlights developments and projects in each area—such as a spotlight on the draft Climate Action Plan for the goal “To enhance environmental sustainability and resources,” and a look at the New Sentinel Building, the “green” project du jour, as an example of environmental stewardship, public-private partnership and economic development.
The colorful pamphlet is sprinkled with unexplained statistics on topics ranging from crime and demographics to greenhouse gas emissions—left for the reader to make sense of. “The statistics will be just statistics—good or bad,” says Coonerty. “They’ll be an opportunity for people to see where that [area] is going. “
The data ranges from the amusing (42,000 rounds of golf were played at DeLaveaga Golf Course in 2010) to the revealing (our population has grown from 54,593 in 2005 to 59,946 in 2010), and tells us that hotel tax revenues have remained stable over the last decade, while sales tax income has steadily, but slowly, grown, and property taxes have shown a drastic leap (which they attribute to a state backfill that “made for a large loss in city in lieu vehicle fees”).
We can glean green hope from the fact that the city’s Public Works Department collected a mere 214 tons of greenwaste in 2000 and 7,425 tons in 2010, and also from the fact that the Santa Cruz community’s carbon emissions have dipped from 386,872 tons in 2000 to 345,195 tons in 2010. (The average amount of carbon emissions per resident went from 4.3 tons in 2000 to 3.8 tons in 2010.) The report previews the Climate Action Plan on the agenda for this summer, which, if adopted, will “recommend a series of energy and cost-saving practices that can be adopted by individuals, businesses and local government to permanently lower the amount of fossil fuels we consume on a daily basis.” Ross Clark, the city’s climate action coordinator, estimates that the plan would reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 70,000 tons per year by 2020 if adopted.
A graph with community safety numbers shows 81,496 calls for service in 2010, compared with 70,065 in 2005—which, left unexplained, implies increased public safety issues. According to Santa Cruz Police Department crime data not included in the report, there have been 198 more criminal offenses so far this year than in the same period in 2010. Police spokesman Zach Friend, however, says the numbers tell a different story when broken down into crime type.
“At the six-month point this year we’re seeing an up tick in property crimes but a decline in violent crimes,” Friend says. Indeed, according to Police Department monthly crime statistics, there have been more burglaries each month in 2011 than in the corresponding months in 2010. However, there have been fewer rapes (10 so far this year, compared with 13 from January to May 2010) and less murders (one this year, but five from January to May 2010).
Overall, Friend says that, “when we look at crime numbers, adjusted for population over the last 10 years, we see declines in most violent crime and property crime categories.”
As for the belief that downtown is unsafe, Friend concurs with Coonerty that it’s more fiction than fact: “Overall calls-for-service and crime numbers in downtown are down about 25 percent from the same period last year,” he says. “We believe the increase in the number of downtown officers, changes in their shift times and the addition of the First Alarm security has contributed to this decline.”
What’s included in the State of the City report is equally as interesting as what’s not—notably missing topics include our unemployment rate (which was 10.9 percent in April 2011 according to the California Employment Development Department), any mention of water resource issues or the proposed desalination plant, and the state’s impact on city finances and services (i.e. realignment).
Coonerty says the latter was omitted because, “Everything that happens in the state is such a moving target that if I wrote something now about the budget or what that budget might look like, nobody knows how it will turn out.” In general, he says it was hard to narrow down what to fit into the brief report. The city plans to do quarterly mail-out reports in addition to the more in-depth annual version, and those interested in additional information can visit the city’s website, where a more detailed web version of the report can be found.
The city allocated $14,000 for the project, but will come out slightly under budget. The funds came from cost savings due to vacancies in the city manager’s office—a worthy expenditure, says Coonerty. He says, “It’s incumbent upon us to do a better job to engage and talk to the community and this is one of the ways we can do it, and for a relatively small amount of money.”