Majority Report | November 17

THIS WEEK ON THE CITY COUNCIL:an insider’s report to more meetings

So, You Want Political?!
Wow, what a political week it was! You’d never know it by reading our print media, Santa Cruz Sentinel and Good Times, even though they both did yeoman’s work on reporting out about homeless-houseless sleeping in the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands. There are simply more news-worthy issues happening than they can currently cover. Both Jessica York [here] and Jondi Gumz [here] wrote insightful stories for the Sentinel on camping and UCSC students being evicted in Santa Cruz, respectively. The Good Times’Andrea Patton got a cover story titled, “Homeless Camp in San Lorenz Park Stirs Controversy, Hope.” It was well-researched and contained some key information about the link between the dire housing and ongoing homeless-houseless conundrum in Surf City. But, in the recent past, say 1975-2005, there were at times three, or four weeklies, and the Sentinel had a whopping 15 or more reporters (now down to four, I hear).

Frankly, an awful lot of stuff does not get reported on in this city. Trees are indeed falling everywhere, and the forest is lacking journalism resources. Perhaps we are in transition to the Twitter-verse, Snapchat, and Facebook future, and it continues to be a continuing challenge to get the word out about what’s happening down at city hall. How are those supposedly in charge actually spending your $225 million dollars that passes as the city budget?

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
I know, if you follow this column I’ve used that sub-head before, but this job is a lot about meetings and this week was no different. There were four in fact, at the University alone. All were about housing.

Unacceptable! Pave paradise and put up 79 condos with NO affordable ones. Not only is Swenson Builder about to do that, they now have completely taken the entire sidewalk on upper Cedar Street (across from Cafe Bene) and took out a #10 bus stop as well. I am still asking, what is the public benefit that the public is getting from this Swenson project on the site of the old Bookshop SC? Please don’t cut the Great Walnut Tree too…

First, the developers of UCSC’s Housing West, you know the 3000-bed project that’s actually 2300 beds when they put back all the beds that are now in study lounges, triples into quadruples and doubles into triples situations…yeah, that project. They invited students to “share” what they would like to see. There was a strong presence of Orwellian linguistic gymnastics at the meeting. “We are analyzing sustainability…integrating the project into the campus ethos (at 3000 beds!)…it will be seamless…a hub…and clusters…spaces that mimic the library…” Of course, they never once talked about the main topic on everyone’s mind: $$ HOW MUCH $$$?What I also saw was a developer hamstrung by a reduced building envelope—now only being able to build on the highly successful and popular “Family Student Housing” footprint, and trying really hard to come off as least corporate as possible. They even let out that they would be lowering the number of units for student families (bad idea!) from the current 199 units to 125. One current family housing invitee said to me afterwards, “Why would you ever take down perfectly good housing when we are in the middle of a housing crisis? It’s my home they are talking about.”

Meeting number two at UCSC was with the Student Union Assembly (SUA) president, Max Jimenez. What a breath of fresh air she is. Max Jimenez got into her current elected office job not as a resume-builder, but to actually get something done and make a difference.(Let’s hear it for Community Studies majors!) I am confident she is the right person to be speaking truth to power for UCSC’s burgeoning student body. She’s sharp and she’s been tough on the current administration and I applaud that. Jimenez knows that students are not getting what they deserve. Transportation is maxed out, housing, not a disaster waiting to happen, but happening, while the information flow between the administration and student body is very limited. This is not a good recipe for a university founded on the Cambridge model of “learning in a community of scholars.” Go Max Jimenez!

Meeting number three was watching twenty undergrads grill, or try to, our Mayor. It was a part of Mayor Cynthia Chase’s “Listening Tour” on housing. She stopped by the city on a hill and found discontent this past week. Students let her know what was on their mind. The group was among the most informed on campus and placed several practical solutions on the table in front of ‘Da Mayor. These included an immediate rent freeze, a rent control ballot initiative, decriminalizing homelessness, and allowing the effective Mental Health Client Action Network (MHCAN) on Cayuga Street to expand beyond its current permitted 20 hours per week. They also said the council should repeal Costa-Hawkins, which currently severely limits rent control in California, fund electric buses, and “have a good conversation with TAPS (Transportation and Parking Services at UCSC)” about working together with Metro service on and off-campus. Some also said strengthen the inclusionary housing rule, while someone said we should “require all developments to be 100% affordable.” You got the feeling these students really did their homework.

Meeting number four was with the SEC, the Student Environmental Center, which is making a strong pitch to get students involved in the housing crisis that’s unfolding on and off-campus. The same SUA president, Max Jimenez addressed a rapt audience of some 75 undergrads and graduate students for at least 40 minutes. She gave them an earful about the lack of transparency she experiences in meetings with the likes of Susan Latham the Business and Administrative Services Vice Chancellor, and even UC president, Janet Napolitano who meets with SUA presidents from all ten campuses once each quarter. Jimenez said that some of them even want me to sign non-disclosure agreements. “I live in Kresge. I consider the university my landlord.” Jimenez continued, “When I meet with other SUA presidents I say, maybe y’all can’t take more students, but we really can’t take more students!”The students are worried that the new bed space mirrors the process of some kind of campus urban renewal. Knock down family student housing and build six-story dorms with pool tables and food lounges. “It just sounds a lot like gentrification,” Jimenez said.

Long story short, students understand that the UC administration’s status quo approach on housing is failing them. Insufficient bed space and skyrocketing dorm rents are pricing students out of on-campus housing (currently $1700 per month), making the university by far the largest “bad actor” landlord in Santa Cruz. Stay tuned for more on student organizing and thoughts on how we can support them.

Last Monday, I was part of an eye-opening tour of our city water facilities. Councilmembers Sandy Brown and Martine Watkins were all along with the H2O department’s director, Rosemary Menard, and her watershed manager (and chief environmental officer), Chris Berry. It was quite the experience! From the Locust Street main office to the River Street “water main replacement project,” and on up to the Coast Pump Station, Bay Street Reservoir, North Coast Pipeline (Little Baldwin Creek), Laguna Diversion along Highway 1 south of Davenport, and all the way to the Newell Creek Dam up towards Bonny Doon and then onto the Loch Lomond Reservoir…wow, mind blowing! It was a feast for the thirsty, the environmentalist, and those skeptical, like me, of city services. On this latter point I felt a lot better afterwards knowing that we have some very hardworking and capable city staff in our water department.

On Tuesday, it was on to the Los Gatos Library with almost a full council, the Downtown Library Advisory Committee (DLAC), city manager Martin Bernal, and the library director, Susan Nemitz all came along on the bus. Nice library up there in Los Gatos, and perhaps more importantly for many readers of this column, there was NO parking garage attached to this very glassy, open, ample and architecturally modern library. Outside I saw bearded-looking techies seated on benches huddled over their laptops waiting for the library to open. There were two outdoor “reading gardens,” delightfully-styled hanging lights, stained glass portals, a separate teen and children’s area, and a “lap top computer checkout station.”

The Los Gatos library was built in 2012 for around $22 million. It is a 30,000 square-foot, two-story Leeds Gold (not platinum) building. The DLAC is currently working on what recommendations to send to the Santa Cruz city council concerning size (currently 44,000 square feet), should it be a remodel or part of a much-talked about parking garage on the site of the current farmer’s market at the corner of Lincoln and Cedar streets. The market would move over to Front Street, behind Kianti’s.

Bernie Tweet of the Week
“The Paradise Papers make clear that we need, in the United States and throughout the world, a tax system which is fair, progressive and transparent.” (Nov. 13)

~Chris Krohn is a father, writer, activist, former Santa Cruz City Councilmember (1998-2002) and Mayor (2001-2002). He’s been running the Environmental Studies Internship program at UC Santa Cruz for the past 12 years. He was elected last November to another 4-year term on the Santa Cruz City Council).

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