Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lockheed Fire smoke considered

The Lockheed Fire as seen from Swift Street and Highway One
Photo courtesy of Rob Knight

Can we justify our persecution of tobacco smokers by claiming justification as a health hazard?

By Becky Johnson
August 7, 2011

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- On October 8th, 2009, the City of Santa Cruz' 'Smoking Pollution Control ordinance' went into effect. Pushed by Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty and City Councilmember, Don Lane, the ban outlawed smoking in wide swaths of public and private property throughout the City. The reasons given were for health reasons and because of tobacco litter.

While smoking tobacco and marijuana were explicitly banned, not all forms of air pollution were addressed. In fact, most weren't.

Air pollution in the City of Santa Cruz contains the smoke produced from automobiles, trucks, refrigeration units, industry, home gas heaters, cooking fumes from homes and restaurants, smoke from backyard barbeques, fireplaces, woodstoves, particle burners, candles, incense, outgassing from particle board, new carpeting, paints, lacquers, air fresheners, hairspray, cleaning fluids as well as dust kicked up in the wind. And what about that gas vapor we smell as we fill our gas tanks? In California alone, this totals 15,811 gallons a day or roughly the equivalence of two tanker truckfulls.

The average car driven in Santa Cruz produces 0.849 lbs of carbon emissions per average US passenger vehicle mile driven. Compared to a pack of cigarettes, this is the equivalent air pollution of 13.6 packs of cigarettes per mile. All of this exhaust goes into our atmosphere where everyone breathes it.

Yet only the smoke from individuals burning small amounts of tobacco or cannabis for personal use have been criminalized.

Consider this: The Lockheed fire burned 7,817 acres between Aug 12 - Aug 23 2009 in N. Santa Cruz County. It's origin has been shrouded in mystery but many believe that law enforcement accidentally started it by trying to burn down a remote marijuana garden. The irony of this cannot be overstated.

Mostly forested lands in the Swanton and Big Creek watershed burned. For 11 days smoke filled the county, choking residents and making everyone miserable. According to the EPA standard, (average fuel loading for woodland fires in California) the Lockheed fire generated 18 tons per acre of air pollution.

140,706 TONS of particulate matter were lofted into the sky and various dilutions of smoke drifted the northern half of the county for 11 days, affecting people out of doors and indoors as well.

The City of Santa Cruz has 60,000 people.

Let's say that 20% of them smoke. Let's say they smoke 1 pack a day.

1 pack a day = 30.5 per month = 366 packs per YEAR
366 packs of cigarettes = 22.87 lbs.

So one smoker in one year produces a potential of 22.87 lbs of air pollution. 12,000 smokers in Santa Cruz for 1 year produce a maximum of 274440 lbs or 137.22 tons per year.

Our citizenry were miserable for days by being exposed to the smoke from that ONE fire. Maybe some asthmatics died then. I don't know. But in order to produce the same amount of air pollution the Lockheed fire produced, all the tobacco smokers in the City of Santa Cruz would have to smoke for 1,025 YEARS.

And this was just the smoke from ONE fire.

No, the Santa Cruz Smoking Ban is not about protection from a 'health hazard' or because of tobacco littering. A public education campaign would take care of that. The ban is about banning people who smoke cigarettes from areas where shoppers and tourists congregate. And its about banning poor and homeless people, since police can pick and choose who they decide to issue a citation to. I'd bet dollars to donuts that more poor and homeless people have been warned and cited than tourists or shoppers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Still way too many left out in the cold

Homeless Census documents a rise in newly homeless, vehicularly housed as well as a return to former numbers

by Becky Johnson
August 6, 2011

Santa Cruz, CA. -- The 2011 Homeless Census and Survey for Santa Cruz County is out. The Santa Cruz Sentinel chose to highlight "a 22 percent increase in numbers" from 2009. But since the 2009 census was done in January whereas the 2007 census was done in late March, I didn't believe there ever was a drop in the homeless population.

In 2011, enumerators counted 2,771 homeless individuals in Santa Cruz County in one day. Authors claim that these numbers indicate that during the course of the year, 9041 will experience homelessness in Santa Cruz County. And if anyone thought we were anywhere near having enough shelter for them, the numbers indicate otherwise.

We see an enumeration of all conceivable shelter options available on January 25, 2011 on page 3 of the Executive summary.

378 emergency shelter spaces were identified.
268 transitional shelter spaces

So we have a total of 646 shelter spaces in use for the ENTIRE county leaving an enumerated 2,125 street count shut out of those spaces on that night. And on January 25th, we have our maximum shelter options available. But many of these shelters are only open in winter. So fewer spaces exist eight months of the year. Numerically this works out to shelter for 23% of those counted. But we know that these point-in-time counts are undercounts. Every last one.

And they state so. According to the report, "This count should be considered conservative since it is well known that even with the most thorough methodology, many homeless individuals stay in locations where they cannot be seen or counted by enumeration teams."

Those who were temporarily crashing on a friend's couch were not counted. Those who were living inside of an abandoned structure were not counted. Those who became homeless after January 25th were not counted. Those who were too deep into the woods when the count happened were not counted. In fact, laws like the camping ordinance and the anti-lodging law have the effect of causing homeless people to remain as invisible as possible in order to avoid a citation. So the gap between those without shelter and the number of shelter spaces available is much greater than reported. Past studies have put it at about 6% in summer.

According to the survey of 498 individuals who self-reported that they were homeless, 22% were found to be living in vehicles. 37% were camping out somewhere. Job loss was the highest reason given for becoming homeless (125 respondents). 63% said they had a disabling condition. 28% said they had been homeless for 3 years or more indicating a continued rise in chronic homelessness.

One of the biggest surprises was the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time: 52% of the respondents said they were experiencing homelessness for the very first time, which was a 6% rise from 2009.

24% of the women were victims of domestic violence. 38% said they were experiencing a substance abuse problem. 11% identified themselves as veterans. They also reported that 65% of the population is on some form of government service, with Food Stamps (42%) being the most common form of aid. However 35% reported receiving no government aid at all.

So we know that the number of people experiencing homelessness remains high, that it is disproportionately male (67%), and that most people homeless in Santa Cruz County last had housing in Santa Cruz County (67%).

This information was gleaned from the Executive Summary. When I've read the entire report, I'll post an update.

The executive summary can be viewed online here.