I think we are not surprised to hear that there are some problems with homeless people and some criminal behavior associated with Santa Rita Park. Phyllis, Michael, DeeDee, Donna and I attended a meeting at the Santa Cruz Parish Hall to learn more about the issues and offer support to our south side neighbors.
We have homeless people pass through and sometimes stay in Armory Park causing few problem situation. The impact on Santa Rita Park and surroundings is more negative. Families with children are often afraid to use the park because of its homeless denizens and even criminal behavior such as drug dealing. In the past, the park was outdoor play space for children whose family homes may not have had a suitable space. Now one rarely sees children and their families at the park.
The problems extend to those who live around the park. Private yards are often used as toilets creating a nasty and unsanitary situation. Noise from fights can also be an annoyance for nearby residents.
The police department was well represented at the meeting. The southside division commander told the group of the steps being taken to discourage illegal activities at the park. What made the most impression on me were the limitations of a “law enforcement only” approach to the problems. Attracting constructive activities at the park could be one of the most effective ways to make the park a neighborhood asset ant to discourage negative behaviors. That falls in the area of the Parks and Recreation Department which has been decimated by budget cuts made to deal with the city’s difficult financial situation. The controversial camp near the railroad tracks is on private property so it falls within the responsibilities of the zoning enforcement officials who have likewise taken serious budget cuts.
I can see two ways in which we in Armory Park may be able to help our neighbors to the south. First, we might come up with some outdoor activities which would contribute to constructive use of the park. Second, we could help to apply pressure on the city to raise the priority of the Santa Rita Park area for attention from the police, the parks department and zoning enforcement. In tight financial times, those who stay silent will be neglected. If you have something helpful to offer, call Angie Quiroz (520-500-2637) of the Barrio Santa Rita -West Ochoa Association. If you want to add your viewpoint to this discussion, leave a comment here.