SANTA CRUZ -- Nearly a year ago, as he took the mayor's seat for the second time in 20 years, Don Lane gave a passionate speech about working to end homelessness, all but identifying it as his primary focus for the 12 months ahead.
After a year dominated by budget belt-tightening, Lane assured other City Council members he would continue working with them to boost the local economy and maintain public safety.
But he also challenged businesses, nonprofits, government leaders and everyday citizens to collaborate on a new approach to tackling the city's longest-standing social ill. He urged them to recognize homelessness as a problem that does affect the local economy.
The 56-year-old nonprofit administrator supports the creation of permanent supportive housing for the homeless rather than just providing temporary shelter and serving meals. Lane has not suggested repealing the city's ban on overnight camping but believes a cycle of citations is not the answer, either.
"Pushing people away doesn't mean they disappear," Lane said to a packed Council Chamber during his inaugural speech on Dec. 13, 2011. "It means they move some distance -- maybe a few blocks away, maybe a few miles away, maybe a few cities away. They still exist, and if they were homeless when they were pushed away, they'll still be homeless."
Lane's work this year will culminate in a Dec. 1 conference called "Creating Smart Solutions to Homelessness: A Countywide
But 2012 brought some surprising twists and turns that complicated Lane's drive for change.
In May, a parolee who had been released from prison due to a state clerical error fatally stabbed downtown shop owner Shannon Collins as she walked on Broadway. It was learned later the alleged killer, who has a history of severe mental health problems, had stayed four nights at the Homeless Services Center, a place that until recent years has been a lightning rod among city leaders and public safety advocacy groups.
The revelation reignited concerns about whether the parolee -- and hundreds of other transients -- chose Santa Cruz because it's too permissive and offers too many services. The incident occurred days before the launch of a new permanent housing initiative targeting the most vulnerable homeless people, a project with which Lane was closely associated.
Then, throughout the summer and in to early autumn, Lane became involved in fast-tracked plans to relocate the Golden State Warriors' Development League basketball team to Santa Cruz. Lane played a key role in bringing negotiators for the city and team back to the table after talks reached a standstill.
Lane also lent his voice to the growing debate over a proposed desalination facility, arguing the city must continue studying the controversial plan amid mandates for fish habitat protection and the threat of drought. After the council passed an ordinance requiring voter approval of desalination, Lane argued against Measure P, an initiative put up by opponents to mandate a vote through a change in the city's charter -- a measure that passed with 72 percent support Nov. 6.
But throughout the year, Lane also proved to be an architect of compromise, building bridges between opposite positions staked out by council members on a host of development and policy issue, including an increase in the lodging tax and a new biking trail in Pogonip.
"To the community, we are one City Council," Lane said. "If we work something out, they will see that. If we are constantly ending decisions with a sense of division, it perpetuates itself."
Lane's civic work goes far beyond City Hall. He is a member of the Regional Transportation Commission, a desalination task force and the Local Agency Formation Commission charged with evaluating a controversial university water extension.
All of that visibility appeared to pay off.
Lane, who served on the council from 1988-1992 before seeking a seat again in 2008, was re-elected Nov. 6 with the highest number of votes among eight candidates. That means he will likely be mayor again in 2015, having served that role the first time in 1992.
Every current council member except Lynn Robinson endorsed Lane's re-election bid, but she said it's not because she doesn't respect him.
"He gives a lot of energy to create consensus among people he works with," Robinson said. "He has a patience that has served him well."
But, Robinson said, "How we approach working on homelessness and the services we provide in our community are different. She said she is concerned by "the amount of people in Santa Cruz we attempt to serve."
After the May slaying, Robinson and two other council members worked with the Homeless Services Center director to fashion new security measures required to receive city funding.
Lane raised concerns about tying the $184,000 in annual funding -- the highest to any nonprofit -- to one of the measures: a client identification system he believed the center would undertake voluntarily.
HOMELESSNESS STILL KEY
Lane said he doesn't believe the murder of Shannon Collins drained willingness in the community to work on homelessness. While the tragedy did raise fair questions about how to prevent such crimes, Lane said it mostly shined a light on cracks in the state's criminal justice system.
"The community's response over time has been reasonable," Lane said.
And he hopes the community will continue to be open-minded. He said the answer to ending homelessness is complex, involving addressing physical needs such as food and shelter, but often substance abuse treatment, mental health services, transition from foster care, or job training, as well.
"My single idea is that there is no single idea that will change this," he said.
By helping to organize the upcoming summit, Lane said he hopes to get as many key officials at the table as possible to examine what policies are working in other communities with significant numbers of homeless people. There are an estimated 2,700 in Santa Cruz County.
Monica Martinez, executive director of the Homeless Services Center, said Lane, a longtime member of the organization's board, has been critical to changing the conservation about homelessness in Santa Cruz -- one that has been largely divisive in past years.
"He is challenging the community not to just to think about the short-term emergency but instead to think about how we are going to create long-term change," Martinez said, calling Lane one of her "closest partners" in trying to end homelessness.
CALL OF THE WARRIORS
When the Warriors announced they wanted to play basketball in Santa Cruz, the city had to spring into action to find a location, draft a financing plan, figure out parking and sort out other aspects. The team is expected to play its first home game Dec. 23 in the 30,000-square-foot temporary structure under construction on Front and Spruce streets.
A number of challenges colored the deal -- concerns from Beach Hill neighbors over noise and traffic, a complicated financial arrangement involving a $4 million city loan and a still-unsigned land lease with the property owner, Santa Cruz Seaside Co.
While excitement swirled around the prospect of Surf City getting an NBA-affiliated franchise, Lane recruited a team of bankers and other financial experts led by Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley to ensure the arrangement was fiscally prudent. Lane also swooped in when the deal looked doomed.
"I provided assurances to the Warriors that it was going to work out," Lane said. "I felt like it was my role to say, 'Patience. We will get through this.'"
Team President Jim Weyermann confirmed Lane was critical, saying the mayor paved the way for exhausted negotiators to keep talking when they were at an impasse over aspects of the city's investment. Weyermann said the team was close to walking away until Lane stepped in.
"It was significant enough that the project wasn't going to go forward without the leadership and intervention that Don provided," Weyermann said. "We had a moment in time I thought it wasn't going to get done. But he shouldered both sides and found ways to keep us talking to each other that got us to a solution."
Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports
IF YOU GO
SMART SOLUTIONS TO HOMELESSNESS
WHAT: A Countywide Community Engagement Summit
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Cabrillo College, Aptos
RSVP: To register, email Phil Kramer at email@example.com, or to request an invitation, go to http://www.smartsolutionstohomelessness.org/attend/.
WHO: Mayor of Santa Cruz, served two terms on City Council, starting third Dec. 11
OCCUPATION: Administrator of Appleton Foundation
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in politics, UC Santa Cruz
FAMILY: Wife Mary, daughter and stepdaughter, two granddaughters