Breaking News: Organizing Neighbors Works
This week I want to acknowledge a few of the people-initiated actions that led to some city hall power brokers having to change policy courses, rethink their priorities, and actually have to deal with the needs and wants of voters. We often dwell on the times that these same decision-makers failed to heed the people’s call to stop, and change course. The dreaded BearCat tank was one, for instance; rezoning of the Unity Temple church property from multi-family to hotel in order to make way for the Broadway Hyatt is another; and a lot of effort was put into obtaining some affordable units at two Swenson projects, the 94-condos at 555 Pacific and the 79-condo scheme at 1237 Pacific, but to no avail. A 173-units of housing in all and nothing was designated as affordable, at least not for ten years. But alas, there were other more recent political endeavors undertaken that have yielded some positive change.
Progressive Community Strikes Back
The Corridors Plan has been put on hold (shelved? maybe, maybe not) because of the work of the Branciforte Action Committee’s (BAC) relentless door-to-door, town hall, and telephone pole placard-style of campaigning. It was a grassroots campaign that halted some pretty onerous single-minded, profit-driven desires that saw developers in cahoots with city planners. Of course, this one ain’t over, but it has been significantly put on hold for a while. The current rent freeze now in effect in the city of Santa Cruz has led to countless rent increases NOT taking place. Of course, it may be short-lived until the results of the November election are in, but for now we need to declare a victory…because it is keeping some people in their homes right now. The third success has been the extraordinary delay that’s taken place with the parking and planning department’s ill-advised scheme to stick the public library into the bottom of a five-story hunk of cement. To make the optics even more perilous, it happens to be planned for the site of the current farmer’s market in downtown Santa Cruz. The unremitting efforts of at least three local groups–Don’t Bury the Library, the Campaign for Sustainable Transportation, and the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network–has yielded a current checkmate with city hall and a rethinking of how best to use the $23 million from a bond measure passed to remodel and renovate the current downtown library. It must be said that the leadership of Jean Brocklebank, Rick Longinotti, and Pauline Seales, all seasoned veterans of past neighborhood organizing efforts, has led to significant delays in implementing this project. Back in December, the DLAC–Downtown Library Advisory Committee–put forward a recommendation. The four choices arrived at by city staff seemed to leave no room for the creativity and energy that had been assembled within the DLAC. So, with their hands tied they went with staff’s recommendation to put the library inside the parking garage, but six months later their decision has not yet arrived onto any city council agenda, mostly because of the tenacious organizing done by the groups who seem to favor a pedestrian, alternative transportation, and smaller carbon footprint Santa Cruz future. It has left a city bureaucracy reeling and double-clutching for ways in which they can realize their dream of yet another downtown parking garage. Now fellow progressives, just stop and take a deep breath. Please consider these accomplishments for a moment. Then, reflect upon other past successes too like Lighthouse Field, Wilder Ranch, the Moore Creek Uplands, the Del Mar Theatre, the Tannery Arts project, and the Pogonip. That is some history. What a legacy to bequeath to your children and grandchildren! Keep it up because there’s still a lot more to do.
The Developers Stand at the Gates Once Again, Cha-chinging
Peter Douglas, the first Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission was fond of saying, “The coast is never saved, the coast is always being saved.” The same can be said of our Santa Cruz city resources. City councilmembers, when elected, might do well to stick with the medical profession’s credo, First, do no harm. We are elected to be informed stewards of a very special place, one that was special before we arrived and one that, if we do our jobs well, will continue to thrive and be a place where future generations will feel content that those who came before watched after this unique environment. Will future Santa Cruzans understand that we cared how much workers earned, fought for housing justice, racial equality, and ethical environmental stewardship? It is a daunting task, but one that can in fact be realized more locally by city councilmembers than by members of congress. Despite our major gains the developers and real estate interests are knocking once more at the Santa Cruz front door. On June 12th, the city council’s evening session will be dedicated to discussing housing, pedestrian, and transportation plans for the downtown. It is an area spanning Pacific and Front Street between Laurel and Soquel and abutting the San Lorenzo River. It’s important that the community shows up and makes its collective voice known. This is a very important part of our downtown that needs more eyes on it. Five hundred to 800 units of housing is contemplated for these streets, including a possible hotel at the corner of Soquel and Front. Will the developer Devcon be let off the hook in building the minimum 15% affordable units? Or, will the city council demand even more? Or, will the council let them off the hook and sign up for condos and rent them at market rate prices? It will go better if the public gets involved. Then, on June 19th, a week later, the 7pm council discussion will center around parking downtown and how to use the $23 million in bond money to fix, remodel, or build an entirely new public library. Again, the council needs your input.
A Strange Decision
I couldn’t help but be mystified by the county Board of Supervisors decision to allow Nissan to build a car dealership off Soquel Avenue near 41st. This was one of those few blockbuster decisions that happen every decade. It seems to me it was a complete 180-degree reversal from the future many of us thought we were headed towards: alternative transportation, cutting greenhouse gases, and affordable housing now! Aside from the enormous amounts of tax revenue that cities and counties reap from these deals, I thought our county was different. I wanted to think that we were going towards a future not based in gasoline-powered pods, but supporting a more livable community, environmentally sustainable and one fundamentally opposed to more cars. Seems like this property could’ve been housing, which may have brought as much traffic as some Nissan supporters argued, but you would’ve had housing. Now we will get another temple to the automobile. This all makes very little sense.