Homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz to close San Lorenzo Park, citing problems with homeless encampment

The city’s emergency executive order cites crime, trespassing, graffiti, social distancing issues and trash as reasons for the park’s temporary closure.

San Lorenzo Park’s struggles to transition from a managed homeless encampment back into a city park have forced its temporary closure.

Those issues, according to an emergency executive order sent by Santa Cruz City Parks & Recreation Director Tony Elliot and City Manager Martin Bernal, include: graffiti, fire safety issues, social distancing breaches, increased calls about safety issues and trespassing, and trash and needles from the unmanaged camps that still exist.

“In recent weeks, the conditions at San Lorenzo Park have deteriorated to the extent that we feel that a temporary park closure is the city’s best and only realistic option,” the order reads. “City staff no longer feel safe in the area and must operate in pairs.”

In mid-November, the city and county relocated San Lorenzo’s so-called Benchlands encampment to DeLaveaga Park because San Lorenzo Park is part of a low-lying flood plain. That, however, didn’t prevent some campers from staying at the park.

According to the city, the temporary closure and encampment abatement will be accomplished in phases, with the goal of temporarily closing the entire park by Jan. 6.

According to the order: “We will provide campers with ample advance notice for each phase. To prevent further deterioration of park conditions, we are proceeding with the first phase of noticing at 8 a.m. tomorrow (Friday) morning.

“We anticipate the area in the first phase (south of the pedestrian bridge and its paved path that connects to Dakota Avenue) will need to be cleared for the commencement of clean-up by Monday morning, Dec. 21.”

Lee Butler, Santa Cruz’s Director of Planning and Community Development, who is also serving as the homelessness response manager said in a statement: “We are working to balance compassion and care for the health and well-being of individuals experiencing homelessness with our responsibility to steward public resources and ensure the safety of all residents.

“As park conditions continue to deteriorate during encampment occupancy, costs for restoration of the park grow. Our conclusion is that the only way to accomplish this balance is through a temporary park closure.”

The order also states: “It is worth noting that the City recently paid over $140,000 to clean and start the rehabilitation process of areas within the Pogonip [park area]. Especially during this time of significant budgetary constraints, we have a duty to preserve the park grounds and facilities and to prevent exorbitant rehabilitation expenses from becoming necessary at San Lorenzo Park.”