There is a Veterans Hall right in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s called “Veterans Memorial,” says so on its facade. It’s next door to the US Post Office and across the street from a marble monument to those children of the county who participated in World War One or in World War Two.
Every Wednesday morning, a group of older men and a couple of women, wearing Veteran badges and holding up a Veteran flag as well as a US flag meet near the monument to sing songs. They don’t sing especially patriotic songs but rather goodies and oldies. This morning, they gave a beautiful rendition of “Lily Marlene.” One old guy volunteered that he was sorry no one there knew the words in German. (For those of you who get your culture from Twitters: “Lily Marlene” was a rare thing, a tube sung by both sides in the European theater during the second world war.) Mostly, usually, they sing “Home on the Range’” and the like.
Another old guy told me that the group is not allowed to meet inside the Veterans building when the weather is inclement without paying the county a fee. Veterans’ Memorial is not freely available to veterans. It’s a small group; they don’t seem prosperous. Perhaps the fee is the method used by the county to keep the homeless out. It’s true that the group of singers looks a little scruffy. Some are old men who don’t live with a woman. Some are down and out homeless. Some are veterans who are homeless.
The decidedly left-wing municipal council of the City of Santa Cruz uses all kinds of artifices to contain and corral the homeless population. It wouldn’t be surprising if the county did something similar. I don’t know that it does. It sounds credible though. I will look into it.
I am not saying there is no problem with the homeless concerning more than those who are homeless. I have spoken about it before. The methods used to deal with them just make me deeply uneasy from a constitutional standpoint. The latent hypocrisy also gets to me. More later.
Two days ago, there was a little ceremony in front of O’Neil’s flagship store, also in downtown Santa Cruz, a block away. Yes, I mean that O’Neil, that genius of entrepreneurship, that hero of capitalism. (For those who read me from overseas: O’Neil is the brand of surfboards then, of beach apparel, you see on every beach in the world. There is actually a Mr O’Neil.) The ceremony was a celebration of PACT. (“People for something or other.”)
PACT was celebrating its first-year anniversary and changing its name to honor a former DA. There were representatives from the DA’s office, from the city police, a couple of social workers, others from various city departments, or county departments, almost all public employees taking paid time off work. I would venture that 90% of those who stopped there for more than one minute were on the public payroll or spouses of such. They were celebrating themselves.
PACT targets “nuisance crimes.” That’s mostly behavior of the homeless population. In its first year, a press release announced, PACT reduced “nuisance crimes” as follows:
“The program focused on 70 repeat offenders during its first year and results show a 70% decrease in arrests and citation recidivism rates. During that period, ambulance runs for those 70 DAP-focused offenders decreased 80%.”
I live downtown, in one of the areas targeted, I think. I did not notice any reduction in nuisances. How come I am not surprised that a new government program announces striking successes? The press release concludes that:
“The Santa Cruz City Council and County Board of Supervisors will be considering the expansion of PACT in their upcoming budget hearings in May and June.” (Bolding mine.)
So, I don’t want to sound persnickety and I am all for initiatives, trying new things where old methods don’t work. What I saw and read on that occasion though is not good enough. I need two more things.
First, I want to be told squarely that the methods used do not violate anyone’s constitutional rights. Even laws that have been on the book forever make me nervous. Anti-loitering laws for one. (Is any man in a conservative coat and tie ever accused of loitering when he is just waiting in the street for his friend?)
Second, to judge a publicly funded program, I always want more info than is provided here. I have no reason to doubt the PACT figures (“70% reduction in…”) – however cherry-picked they may be. They are only performance measurements however. I want cost-benefit, input-output measurements. If a city program resulted in 100% reduction in litter on my street, I would be only guardedly happy. If I found out that my share of the real cost of this achievement was $10,000 annually, I am certain I would want to find out about the cost of a 90% reduction in litter, and so on.
And, by the way, I want the real cost, all included, including pension funding going forward. Sometimes just asking that a bureaucracy calculate the costs of its actions and make them public is enough to alter its course. Sometimes, just demanding that it calculate those costs is enough.
Good government is largely about choosing. I want the elements of choice to be divulged to me as a citizen and as a taxpayer. It’s not too much to ask, I think.
PS Yes, I know, the city council was elected according to fair and clean elections. That’s not enough for me. I want it to do as little as possible on its own.