SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe city officials are considering a number of ideas designed to improve security at the Santa Fe Railyard.
Proposals to be reviewed by the City Council next month include hiring a private security guard to patrol the area, amping up police presence during warmer months and formally prohibiting camping on city property.
The plan stems from a resolution unanimously approved by the City Council in October that directed staff “to explore the options and feasibility for acquiring security at the Santa Fe Railyard.”
The move was a response to increasing police calls to the Railyard area and crime that has ranged from assaults, robberies and public drunkenness to vandalism and graffiti, according to the resolution.
“We’ve spent all this money and effort in developing that park, and it would be a shame to see it degrade and not be available for everyone to use,” City Councilor Patti Bushee said.
Bushee and fellow councilor Chris Calvert, who represent the city district that includes the Railyard, both said last fall they had received complaints from people living in the Railyard and surrounding areas. Bushee held a series of meetings on the problems that attracted up to 40 or so attendees.
“I think the meetings we had in the Railyard and really putting the focus on the level of crime and type of crime and trying to tailor a response to those issues, I think that’s what this package does,” Bushee said.
She added that “a hard-core group of folks” with serious drug and alcohol problems have staked out places to camp or stay near the Railyard.
Some of the proposals – such as banning camping on city property – appear to be aimed at homeless or itinerate people who gather in or around the Railyard and other park land.
A group consisting of City Manager Robert Romero and employees from Santa Fe’s police, fire, legal and public works departments, as well as staff from the Santa Fe Railyard Community Corp., the nonprofit that runs the Railyard under contract with the city, came up with the recommendations.
“We’re really pleased with the city’s support on this. It’s been a growing issue in the Railyard,” said Sandra Brice, events and marketing coordinator for the SFRCC.
“The Railyard draws thousands of people every year. As we’ve all learned together to manage it and see how people are using it, we’ve discovered that these security issues need to be seriously addressed.”
The most expensive idea on the group’s list involves hiring private security for the Railyard. A guard would patrol the Railyard seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., at an estimated cost of $95,400 per year. The security company would be paid for by Railyard gross receipts tax revenue.
The city of Santa Fe already pays for outside security officers at several of its facilities, including the Railyard parking garage.
Romero’s group is also recommending the city put a police officer on duty at the Railyard from noon to 10 p.m. on weekends during the “high” season of May through August.
The officer would be hired from a list of overtime volunteers, so the department won’t be taking officers off the street for Railyard duty, Police Chief Ray Rael told the city’s Public Safety Committee Thursday.
The police department recently opened a new substation at the Santa Fe Depot in the Railyard, but Rael said it operates mainly as a base for bicycle patrol officers and isn’t manned all the time.
Overtime police costs to patrol the Railyard are expected to be about $15,000 to $20,000 a year and would be funded with department salary savings.
Altogether, the cost for extra Railyard security could be about $120,000 annually, Calvert said Friday. He said he hasn’t yet seen the recommendations, but they seem reasonable.
“It sounds like staff has put together a pretty good plan. I’ll be interested in talking to them about it to go over it a little bit more, but it sounds like a pretty good plan that will hopefully give us better coverage than what we have now,” he said.
Other recommendations to reduce crime at the Railyard include:
♦ Formally prohibiting camping on city property. Activity in city parks is expected to stop when the parks close at 10 p.m., but city law doesn’t specifically prohibit camping.
The Occupy Santa Fe movement recently camped out in the Railyard park for nearly three months without city hassles and with the support of Mayor David Coss. But the city recently ordered remaining campers – mostly homeless people – out of the park.
♦ Installing four to six security cameras in the Railyard. The cameras would be the same kind slated for use later this year at trail heads and parks around the city.
♦ Amending city law to prohibit people from possessing an open alcohol container in an unlicensed public space, a measure aimed at helping Santa Fe police officers crack down on illegal public alcohol consumption. It’s already unlawful to drink alcohol in such an area, but police say it can be difficult to take action if they don’t actually see someone drinking.
The measure has already been introduced by Bushee and goes before the City Council for a vote on Feb. 8.
♦ Creating ordinances to regulate liquor sales in the Railyard area. This would include monitoring store hours and prohibiting the sale of products between 6 and 9 p.m., as well as the sale of “single” bottle of spirits, beer and malt liquor and cold beverages.
♦ Lobbying the New Mexico Legislature to approve a bill imposing a 5 percent tax on alcohol to fund substance abuse treatment – a nod to the problems of some of the people who hang out around the Railyard.