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Criminal Justice Through A Gender Lens
The issues that women face in the criminal justice system are different from those affecting men. Two years ago, the Sheriff commissioned a report on women in the criminal justice system entitled Gender Matters: A Profile of Women in Santa Cruz County Jail by Dr. Susan Greene. In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Dr. Greene highlighted the different types of crimes that women are sentenced for and the high incidence of physical and sexual abuse that many women in jail have faced. She also pointed out that roughly half of the women in jail have had parents who were in jail and now have children of their own. (Read the report by clicking here.

In order to address the specific issues that women face and to develop a more gender-informed set of policies, the Board appointed a 20-member Justice and Gender Task Force comprised of practitioners from the criminal justice system, women with lived experience, and agencies that work with women and their families. The group has been meeting monthly, looking at issues including the impact of arrests on children, the importance of working with families of those incarcerated, and the need for re-entry housing.

The Task Force recently made its first set of recommendations to the Board. These recommendations encompassed the need for clear policies and training for arresting officers when children are present, new strategies to allow children to see their parents if they are incarcerated, and the need to identify locations for housing for women released from jail. The Task Force also reviewed recommendations from the Serious Incident Review Board that the Sheriff assembled after a sexual assault in the jail last year. You can read the Task Force recommendations by clicking here.

I also want to encourage you to watch the presentation to the Board and have the opportunity to hear the powerful testimony from community members by clicking clicking here.
Changes In Housing Can Affect Your Neighborhood

With the struggles of so many community members to find affordable places to live (both for home purchase and rent), the Board has been exploring what land use tools and strategies we can implement to encourage new construction. In an effort to promote "affordable by design" rental units, we have made significant changes to our land use policies, permit process, and fees on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). We have even implemented a permit fee waiver pilot program for ADUs of 640 square feet or smaller (Click Here for ADU info). The County is also looking at using County-owned property for the construction of affordable housing, with the 17th Avenue and Capitola Road former Redevelopment site in the development review process for a mixed-use affordable housing project.

To put some of the recent efforts to address our housing crisis into context, in 2015 the Board voted to allow developers to choose whether to build required affordable units in their developments or pay an in-lieu fee to meet the inclusionary zoning requirements. I voted against this at the time because I feared that giving the option of in-lieu fees would lead to a decline in the actual building of affordable units. Sadly, time proved me right as no inclusionary affordable housing was built for three years due to this policy change, and the money earned through in-lieu fees is not enough to build the same number of lost units. In order to return to our previous successful affordable housing inclusionary construction policy, members of the business and development community asked for the creation of a density bonus program to make the finances of building affordable housing units onsite work. In other words, developers expressed that they could not make a project pencil out financially unless we allowed them to build at a higher density than current zoning allows.  

Prior to this density bonus proposal, I participated, along with hundreds of 1st District residents, in community discussions about the Sustainable Santa Cruz County Plan which focused increases in density along our major transit corridors. The Board supported a plan that would allow modest increases in density along those corridors, but we have been waiting for the Planning Department to finish its environmental review before the plan becomes formally adopted. In the absence of adoption of these community supported policies, the Board felt strongly that action needed to be taken now. Thus, what came before the Board in November of 2018 was a land use policy package that included returning to inclusionary zoning requirements (to build affordable units on site) and an enhanced density bonus proposal. I voted against this new density package because I felt that it broke the social contract we had with the public. The density bonus policies now in effect allow developers to apply for enhanced density in any residential neighborhood. I tried to get language focused on our agreed-upon policy (along transit corridors), but my colleagues wanted to try allowing this new density everywhere (even though they agreed it would be best along the transit corridors). You can read the density bonus policy by clicking here.

This brings me to the Habitat for Humanity project on Harper Street. I have supported the construction of several good affordable housing projects in the district because we have so many families in need. But the Habitat project on Harper Street is a perfect example of why higher density everywhere doesn't make good practical sense. Harper Street is a substandard dead-end street that lacks adequate road width for safe two-way car travel. It has incomplete pedestrian infrastructure and lacks complete curbs and gutters to address storm water drainage.

Having too many units in this type of environment doesn't help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions because these new residents will need to drive everywhere. Further, the project doesn't integrate into the existing neighborhood well and exacerbates an already substandard situation. I could not support the size of the current project and I remain concerned about how this new density bonus policy could affect other residential neighborhoods. For more information on the Harper Street project click here.

Our housing crisis is an important issue that requires our continued efforts to address the needs of our local workforce, including those in the service industry, our teachers, and many others impacted by the high price of housing. I don't have all the answers, but I want to work towards sensible solutions that can integrate into our current community landscape. I will continue to advocate for good affordable housing projects and other development when sited and designed appropriately. I look forward to the day when we can adopt our Sustainable Santa Cruz County Plan to help further that goal.   

Before and After at Moran Lake Park - THANKS COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS!!
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