More than 100 downtown business owners, managers and employees have signed a petition asking the Santa Fe City Council and Mayor Alan Webber to address crime and other issues they say largely are caused by panhandlers and “vagrants” around the Plaza.
The petition, which seeks increased police patrols, says business owners are regularly cleaning up feces and urine near their shops, restaurants and hotels and often face harassment from panhandlers.
The request for more police presence also comes as officers are investigating two violent armed robberies at downtown stores in recent weeks.
“We know of no other city in the world that receives as many tourists as we do that does not have a constant patrol of police officers assigned to high tourist areas,” says a letter attached to the petition.
The city will hold two merchant meetings this week.
One will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday night at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center for downtown retailers and a second is scheduled at the same time and place Thursday for merchants in the Railyard and Guadalupe districts.
John Kinsolzing, the longtime business owner of Tees & Skis, located at 107 Washington Ave. since 1980, said he decided to start the petition because so many people said they have been accosted, cussed at and spat at by people asking for money downtown.
He and his two daughters collected the 119 signatures Friday and Saturday.
“They’ve all complained to the mayor but nothing’s happened,” said his daughter, Wendy Kinsolzing. “I felt really discouraged getting the signatures because I thought, ‘Is this going to do us any good?’ “
John Kinsolzing said shop owners and employees are aware of the issues downtown and would mention the recent robberies at The Good Stuff record shop and the Moxie jewelry store as he asked for their signatures.
City spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said the Santa Fe Police Department has begun to address the issues and recently kicked off a two-week enforcement effort called Operation Downtown Focus.
“The mission is prevention [and] it includes outreach and communication,” she said.
Four additional uniformed officers will be patrolling the downtown area from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a zero-tolerance mandate on crimes for things like littering, drug use and alcohol consumption, Chacon said.
Kristine Mihelcic, the city’s constituent and council services director, said officers have reached out to at least 21 businesses through the operation, and the police department has stationed a mobile video trailer on the Plaza for the last couple of months.
One trailer is currently set up in front of Plaza Cafe, while a second one rotates among locations such as the De Vargas and Railyard parks.
Some critics said the initiative isn’t effective.
“If they put that there to be their eyes, it’s not working,” said Michael Gorman, who sells his silver jewelry under the portal at the Palace of the Governors.
Gorman, a longtime member of the Portal Artisan Committee, said theft has always been an issue for Native artists who sell their work at the site, but he also has noticed a decrease in police presence over the years.
“We rely heavily on, you know, the area’s ability to attract tourists and people from outside the state and people from outside the country,” he said. “If things happen that deter that possibility, then what do we have?”
Wendy Kinsolzing said tourists have told her they felt harassed by panhandlers.
But as much as downtown merchants depend on tourists for their livelihoods, so do the people who ask for money.
Standing near a cluster of newspaper racks along the south side of the Plaza, Valentino Mascarenas held a sign saying he was newly homeless.
Mascarenas, a Taos native, said he panhandles on the Plaza because it draws crowds of people who are, for the most part, generous.
“[I’m] doing this on my own accord to survive, and without the help from the public, I really have no chance,” he said.
Mascarenas said he knows some of the people who panhandle can be difficult, but he also experiences harassment.
“We definitely sympathize with the merchants,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “We think that an approach that tries to meet the real needs of the people who are panhandling might be more effective than just a police approach.”