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.”

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(10) comments

Dr. Michael Johnson

Isn't it sad that this is the only solution to this mess, since the socialist government refuses to get them off the streets and away from citizens.

Richard Reinders

This should be the top priority of Santa Fe's new City Manager, Jarel LaPan Hill.

Chris Mechels

Gee, maybe they can park an empty squad car there. If they can spare one. And a new, competent, police chief would be nice. I suggest Lt. Michelle Williams.

RO Ortega

Our Mayor apparently believes that a 2 or 3 week effort will solve issues in our community. It is certainly sad to think that we have someone running our city that believes a few weeks directed at a problem is sufficient to quiet the (stinking) people in our community. When we complain loud enough in the railyard about business parking in front of our homes, we get enforcement for a few weeks. When people engaged with the railyard and railyard park are expressing concerns with frightening and aggressive behavior, drinking, and camping in our city parks, the city parks a camera, and adds more programming for homeless but DOES NOT ENFORCE no camping, open containers or public intoxication. The problems for the homes and businesses next to Pete's Pets on Cerrillos have also been ignored. It is important that as a community we help those who are struggling, however at no time does this help supersede the health, safety, and welfare of the residents. If programming to help homeless is added, then any problems created by the programming must be addressed rather than ignored. Hank Hughes, who has profoundly expanded homeless programs in Santa Fe, needs to understand the responsibility of fund raising rather than simply using the city coffers as our community is small and unable to support the needs of homeless though out the state of New Mexico and our country. It is a well understood principle that providing shelter first works when done on a national scale, but a poor approach for a small town. The problems facing Santa Fe with transients since Mr. Hughes launched the "End Homelessness in 5 Years" programming are obvious. The most pressing issue is what is your plan for people struggling with severe mental health issues who are not welcome in the shelters? Leave them to camp in our city center? A shockingly bad policy for our community, and no one has more responsibility for finding a solution than Mr Hughs, that extends beyond believing that our small community can financially address the national problem of homelessness. Santa Fe will never be able to provide enough housing and support services, which is where we are today. A failed homeless program for the broadest and most basic concerns of the residents in Santa Fe, public safety.

Julie Berman

Panhandling has become rampant in Santa Fe the last few years. Find a busy intersection and you have the same panhandlers day after day. Go to a grocery store parking lot at dusk and the panhandlers are there asking for money. Doesn’t feel particularly safe and seems like the City could do something. Question is WILL THEY? For Santa Fe’s Tourism business, one would think the elected officials would be concerned. The problem has escalated beyond the Plaza and affects all of us.

Jeff Hayduke

Pitiful how cops need to be reminded to do their jobs. "Operation Downtown Focus" seems like optional work and a two week window is not enough to cause change.

Richard Reinders

Petition to replace the current Administration with one that will get the job done, Webber does not have any excuse why they can't eliminate the panhandling , I personally sent him and his city council a copy of the Laws Salt Lake City uses they effectively eliminated panhandling, so he can't say I can't do anything because of the ACLU.

Brent Bolen

How about a link to the Salt Lake City laws. When I was there last year, the panhandling was as bad or worse than it is here in Santa Fe. Maybe they fixed it since then, though.

Dan Chase

Problem is the chief and deputy chiefs, they were lazy as cops and they have no clue what they are doing. Bad part is the mayor is too proud to admit he made a mistake with his police admin and therefore the public suffers. Look at their salaries and they make more than what they’re worth!

Robert Bartlett

Reality bites. The only thing that will stop the rot is firm policing and a ban on panhandling around the Plaza. We need more and better paid police.

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