Five Santa Cruz city parks vehicles set afire, causing $300,000 in damages

Caution tape blocks the scene where burned cars were parked Thursday at the City of Santa Cruz yard at Harvey West Park.
Caution tape blocks the scene where burned cars were parked Thursday at the City of Santa Cruz yard at Harvey West Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

In the middle of Wednesday night, at least five City of Santa Cruz parks vehicles were destroyed in what officials said was an intentional firebombing at the city’s yard at Harvey West Park. An investigation is underway, with spray-painted messages found nearby.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. Thursday, City of Santa Cruz staff were alerted to a fire incident at the city’s parks yard of Harvey West Park. Multiple agencies — including Santa Cruz Fire, Scotts Valley Fire, Felton Fire and the city’s public works and environmental health departments — arrived on the scene, putting the fires out. The damage, though, is significant.

At least five parks department trucks were damaged in the fire, amounting to at least $300,000 in damages by publication time, according to city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith.

Santa Cruz Emergency Services Manager Paul Horvat said the incident is considered “suspicious in nature,” primarily due to nearby spray-painted messages related to the city’s homelessness response work. The two messages, in bright red paint, read “Leave Homeless Alone” and “Stop Sweeping!”

The Santa Cruz Police Department began its investigation soon thereafter, with Chief Bernie Escalante saying the team is continuing to canvass the area for witnesses and look through video surveillance.

“There are still some details that, hopefully, we’ll have [more evidence] later in the day,” he said.

Caution tape blocks a crime scene at the City of Santa Cruz's parks yard at Harvey West Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

While the investigation is still underway, both Horvat and Escalante said the incident is even more unfortunate for parks staff, who have been feeling unsafe in their work environment.

Parks and Recreation Director Tony Elliot said an incident like this hasn’t happened before, but parks staff sometimes receives threats, some of which relate to homelessness response. Others have dealt with vandalism and break-ins in the field. Although this incident is much larger than the parks team has seen before, Elliot says the larger issue centers on the mental and physical health of parks staff.

“There is a huge effect of feelings and security on our staff,” he said. “This is a cost that you can’t put a number to.”

Adds Escalante, putting the incident in perspective: “There are so many resources being devoted toward the Homeless Action Plan, which is probably a better plan than I’ve seen in the 25 years I’ve been here, and here’s the response.”

Caution tape blocks a crime scene at Harvey West Park.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )