Originally published on BrattonOnline: the latest incarnation of Bruce Bratton’s weekly opinion columns, 34 years and running. Featuring additional content from Gillian Greensite, Chris Krohn, Becky Steinbruner, Gary Patton, Lisa Jensen, Steven DeCinzo, Tim Eagan, and more!
Hidden Agenda or Open Agenda?
Why Not Just Publish an “Agenda for Dummies?”
So much of the Santa Cruz city council agenda is made up of snooze items. For example, the “Reconciliation of Private Encroachment on City Watershed Lands,” might be one. The issue is that years-ago somebody paved over city land to put in a private driveway and now they want to trade two of their acres to the city for the driveway land. Then there’s approving grants for Water Department “technical assistance contracts,” worth a couple of million dollars. Of course, many agenda items are snooze items until something goes wrong resulting in a law suit. The city is often involved in suing and being sued. Turns out though that so much of municipal substance is shrouded in the bureaucratic word blather making up each agenda item. This week’s city council agenda was of particular note. It was seemingly filled with insignificant and tedious snooze items, but in fact reflected a great deal about of our current collective anxiety around affordable housing, healthcare, a planning department that sees things differently than the community, and a city budget deficit. Perception and deception are unfortunately often by-products in our representative democracy.
Still No Affordable Rental Housing at Swenson 79-condo Project at 1547 Pacific Avenue, Why?
Not to beat a dead horse, but there they were, 11.85 units (15% of 79) of affordable rentals right there on the table at the last two city council meetings. The majority decided not to demand these units because it “just won’t pencil out” for the developer. On the Tuesday, Oct. 24th agenda, Barry Swenson and company was asking the council for a final condo map for their Pacific Park project (the old Bookshop Santa Cruz site). Seems like they need the map in order to rent the units at market-rate and avoid selling them to further avoid having to sell the affordable ones. If you are confused, then this complicated scheme is working. It’s the eleventh hour or the bottom of the ninth or nearing the end of overtime, whatever metaphor works, and the city council needs to decide which side of the affordable housing debate they are on. Either find developers who only build affordable, or continue making deals with devils who have their bottom lines, or shareholders’ concerns, first. Hoping for affordable units isn’t the same as making them build the units. The council is responsible to the housing needs of the community, not to the 20-30% profit margin developers expect.
Public Ownership of Ambulance Services
Can the Santa Cruz Fire Department add a countywide ambulance service to its workload? The short answer is, maybe. But, there is a $70,000 consultant contract on the agenda to evaluate the potential to make this happen. It would mean not having to take a huge fire truck out with the inevitable private ambulance service, usually AMR, following close behind. Instead, SCFD would leave the fire truck at the station and operate its own ambulance. In fact, if Fire Chief, Jim Frawley’s dream is realized we just might better be able to attend to our “unhoused and economically disadvantaged populations…” A part of Frawley’s dream bears repeating here from the city council staff report he submitted for this council agenda item:
“Because they (homeless and economically disadvantaged) are not able to address small health issues while they are small, their conditions worsen to the point where emergency 911 service is needed. As a part of the (new city) ambulance transport service, a special unit that actively and proactively engages with these communities can dramatically alter the response needs by providing mobile health services, referrals, and connection to other services like mental health experts, substance use disorder counselors, and social service case workers.”
Can I get an Amen?! Wow, yes, a fire chief with vision. Go Chief Frawley! The only drawback is that to implement this it will take a variety of finance and IT city staff to assess and get the project up and running. The downside is that there are tradeoffs in workloads being discussed. One is that the finance director is suggesting that a way to free up the 1,350 person-hours the start of the ambulance endeavor may take, is to delay moving on finding new banking services. Earlier this year the council gave direction to find an alternative to the now tarnished and disreputable current service provider, Wells Fargo. Another choice offered would have the city not moving forward until 2018 on a Parks and Recreation fee study. What would the public say about this? What’s more important, not giving city money over to a disreputable bank, or not performing a fee study? I think I know which one the public would choose. Yes, the ambulance idea is a worthy one and we need to move ahead with all deliberate speed, but we also need to find a path sooner than later in withdrawing city support of a failing financial corporation.
A Report that Sent a Planning Director Packing?
Again, here’s an agenda item you would never know is a follow-up, “status update’ that was ordered by a previous city council. It was the outcome of a rather scathing outside consultant in-depth report on “Improving the Planning and Community Development Department.” The report was issued on March 16, 2015 at the behest of city manager, Martin Bernal and likely a majority of city council votes at the time. I believe this 31-page report is the first time it’s ever appeared in a city council agenda. (Go here , click on item #16, then go to the right column to see the document.)
The report states on page 11, “A common customer comment is that the Planning and Community Development Department is not doing an effective job of communicating with the public about the planning and building process. As a result, some customers are frustrated with the department, calling it ‘bureaucratic,’ ‘rigid,’ ‘not helpful,’ and similar comments.” The Conclusion reads like this: “Without measurable customer service objectives and measures of workload or service activity, it is difficult to confirm the quality of service that staff believes they are providing or hold them accountable if they are not. And, based on customer interviews, there is room for improvement.” Folks, this is not pretty stuff, and likely led to the demise of former Planning Director, Julianna Rebagliati. But what I fear is that her ouster came about more because she was going too slow in approving for-profit development in Santa Cruz, which may actually be a desire more in line with the present wishes of the community, i.e. reign in the developer-class. What I hear from the community is yes to affordable housing and no to second-home large profit-driven development; severely limit the number of short-term rentals, and engage with the university to house ALL of its students over 19,000 on their beautiful campus. Is “planning” just about building and economic growth? Since when did planning become synonymous with being responsible for lining the pockets of this developer class? Air quality, water quality, care for the bay and our redwood groves, being good stewards of the resources we have…shouldn’t this be the bedrock mission values of our “planning and community development” department?
City Manager (CM) Suggested Budget Cuts You May Want to Know About
The cuts the city manager is asking the council to make by January aren’t pretty either. Under the agenda title: “FY 2018 Proposed Budget Balancing,” CM Bernal put forward a list of nine pages of line item cuts totaling $2,278,219. Some of the cuts are as follows, and remember this is from the CM and his department heads. As far as I know, there have been no public meetings, neighborhood meetings, consultation with the various city commissions, nor has the city council suggested any of these cuts. There are more, but the following seem short-sited:
• $124,000 from the elimination of on-site probation officers. This may delay probation related reviews.
• $43,725 in various reductions to Recreation programs and facilities including youth & teen programming, sports and general classes, special events, and support for Louden Nelson, the Museum, and Harvey West pool.
• $27,000 in reduced capacity for City Council special projects (who knew we had this money?!?)
• $35,250 in Wharf maintenance and technical services. This will impact various levels of commerce, utility or the public’s safety.
These are just a few of the cuts I am concerned about. Please email me (email@example.com) any ideas you might have on cuts the city might make given the $2 million-plus current deficit.
To see list, click here.
and click on item #18 then look over to right column and click on documents to see list of cuts.
Over 500 people came out this past week at the Civic Auditorium to hear Professor’s Steve McKay and Miriam Greenberg present their findings on how crazy bad our housing market has become. They had an army of over 200 students interview 1700 renters across Santa Cruz county. You can see their work at http://noplacelikehomeucsc.org/en/
This Thursday the Santa Cruz Community Church at 411 Roxas Street on the eastside will be buzzing with Save Santa Cruz people advocating for the final entombing of the “Corridors Plan.” Many believe it is not dead yet, but still limping along. I suggest Save Santa Cruz people look at Item #23 “Density Bonus Ordinance Amendments” on the Oct. 24th council agenda and see how even without the Corridor Plan, a nasty for-profit developer genie is working over-time.
Bernie Quote of the Week
Sen. Sanders on Trump’s tax plan: “It is a Robin Hood proposal in reverse…it must be defeated”
Everyone asks me, ‘What is this?’ It is a soulless hotel
on Mission Street Extension. No emoji can express our collective community angst and sadness.