Life in the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by natural beauty, can also mean you’re never sure someone or something isn’t prowling around your property at night: Is that noise a deer or a raccoon looking for a snack? Or could it be someone stealing the wheels off your car while flying high on methamphetamine?
That’s the scenario a number of Boulder Creek residents described during a March 13 meeting with parks and sheriff’s officials, and it’s the motivation behind the creation of a virtual neighborhood watch for the crime-ridden area around a local dam.
‘Something’s got to change’
Neighbors met with Sgt. John Habermehl of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and representatives of Boulder Creek Recreation and Parks District on March 13 at the rec hall office.
Several described Barbara Day Park — the dam park at Middleton and Fairview avenues — as a place where people are regularly drunk or high, party at all hours of the night and trespass onto private property. They said dogs are often allowed off their leashes, trash accumulates and broken glass and discarded hypodermic needles are common hazards.
The problem is not new, the residents said, but it escalated about a month ago when a community member asked a group of teenage boys to leave late one night and was assaulted, resulting in injuries that needed stitches.
Val Hollen, who has lived near the park for 17 years, said trespassers after dark cause the most serious problems. The park has no floodlights, nor any electrical wiring.
“You can hear it,” she said, describing noise made by trespassers. “It’s certainly week after week.”
Several residents blamed a sparse police presence and a lack of consequences imposed on those who violate park rules.
“Something’s got to change here,” Hollen said, while acknowledging that “it’s a little rural town and we’re at the end of the road.”
‘If I don’t know the problem exists, I can’t send my deputies there’
At the meeting, Habermehl introduced an online program called Pro Boards, which allows the residents to participate in an online Neighborhood Watch program and document suspicious trends and activities on a secure webpage shared with the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office can schedule its coverage more efficiently, he said, if residents establish a record of incidents — sightings of a suspicious vehicle, for example, or a series of opened mailboxes in a certain area.
He described the process as “directed enforcement.”
“It’s putting the communication lines back out there so we can communicate regularly,” Habermehl said. “If I don’t know the problem exists, I can’t send my deputies there.”
Reports from traditional watches often arrive sporadically or long after the fact, he said. A website allows for consistent, timely reporting — if people participate.
“It’s just a matter of getting all the neighbors logged on,” Habermehl said. “The more people use it, the more effective it can be. It’s just a shell if people don’t communicate.”
He cautioned that posting on the site is not the same as reporting a crime, and a resident who sees a crime in progress should immediately call it in.
“It’s not so much for reporting of specific crimes,” Habermehl said. “It’s more along the lines of communicating trends or activities that they’ve been noticing.”
‘It pushes the harmful people out’
As sheriff’s officials work to improve their enforcement in troubled areas, leaders of the recreation and parks district are trying to change the areas themselves.
Barbara Day Park, one of a handful of parks in Boulder Creek operated by the town’s recreation and parks district, is being overhauled, according to Brian Valdivia, a member of the district board.
Valdivia hopes the renovation promotes greater use of the park by families and events.
“We’re really putting a lot of energy and time into (upgrading Barbara Day Park),” he said. “If you have more positive activities, the more it pushes the harmful people out.”
“Harmful people” are nothing new to Barbara Day Park, according to Hallie Greene, district manager.
“This has been certainly ongoing for years and years,” Greene said. “The main complaint we get is the drinking, the smoking and the dogs.”
During a community meeting in September 2007, the Press-Banner reported that residents called attention to regular drug dealing, fights and other criminal activity at the park.
The Press-Banner reported at the time that sheriff’s office officials speculated that troublemakers had migrated to Barbara Day Park in response to increased security at Junction Park.
A surveillance camera system was installed in Junction Park following a March 2011 assault on a recreation department janitor.
Greene said enforcement of the rules was easier there than at Barbara Day Park, partially because Junction Park, at Middleton and Railroad avenues, is visible from the district office, 13333 Middleton Ave.
She said the problems at Junction Park also decreased because more people started using the park as the district tried to make it welcoming to families — just as the district is doing at Barbara Day Park.
“I’d say families utilize Junction Park more than Barbara Day Park,” Greene said. “People don’t want to be loitering where (other) people have their kids.”
She said the district has committed $15,000 to build a fence and install new signs at the park. The district is also considering solar options as a solution to the lack of electricity for lighting at the park.
Greene said the community’s communication with law enforcement is critical to combat illegal activities, as recreation staff members are prohibited from approaching lawbreakers due to the risk of harm.
“It’s really important to call the sheriff,” Greene said. “People are going to get cited if they’re doing illegal activities down there.”
Valdivia said gathering input from neighbors is the key to determining how the district should move forward with promoting safety at the park.
“The more community response we get, the better,” he said.
For more information about the online neighborhood watch program, visit http://bouldercreekdam.freeforums.net.
To comment, email reporter Joe Shreve at email@example.com, call 438-2500 or post a comment at www.pressbanner.com.