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The Environment

Measure O for Our Climate Crisis

Fact Check

City's Claim:
The Library Mixed-Use Proposal will be a sustainable project for the following reasons: 
  • It would be LEED "net zero" energy certified
  • It would be all electric with solar panels
  • It would have a partial green/living roof
Let's explore the facts and comparisons between the City's Library Mixed-Use Proposal and Measure O, using leading practices in responsible urban planning.

Jump to Sections from Table of Contents:
Sierra Club
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The Sierra Club supports Measure O:

"In 2016 and 2018 the Sierra Club urged the City of Santa Cruz to reject plans for a large parking structure downtown that would include a new library and housing on the Cedar Street parking lot—the long-time home of our weekly Farmers Market."
"Unfortunately, the City is moving forward with plans to demolish the existing downtown library and build a combined parking, housing, and library facility on the Cedar Street parking lot, and move the Farmers Market to a location on Front Street... There is a coalition that is working to change the direction of the City’s proposal to build a hybrid parking–library–housing development..."
Read more about the Sierra Club's history of objecting to the City's plans, leading to the formation of Measure O in tandem with many other organizations:
Embodied Carbon

Renovation Versus New Construction


What is Embodied Carbon?

From The Carbon Leadership Forum: 

"In the building industry, embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials." 

"In contrast, operational carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions due to building energy consumption.
Renovations are Far Greener Options According to Leaders in the Industry
  • "Building renovations generate significantly lower emissions than new construction, typically 50 – 75% less than new buildings generate."

  • "Renovation projects have lower eCO2 than new construction because they generally reuse the structure and building envelope, which account for the majority of the eCO2 in a building."

The following video demonstrates why renovation of existing buildings
is far more environmentally responsible than demolishing them in favor
of building new facilities.

The City's Library Mixed-Use Proposal & Embodied Carbon

  • Conservative estimate of CO2 produced for manufacture of concrete in the Lot 4 Mixed-Use Project = 22,707.3 tons of CO2

    • Source: Measure O Committee of architects, urban planners, and contractors

  • A large concrete truck carries 10 yards of concrete = 1,246 trips from production to job site

  • 8 stories of new construction, with an additional underground level of parking garage
  • Demolition and disposal of our current structurally sound Downtown Library
  • Demolition and disposal of the Toadal Fitness building on Lot 4​​
Conclusion: Intense production of embodied carbon - not sustainable 

Measure O & Embodied Carbon

  • Fully renovates our structurally sound Downtown Library, reusing the foundation and basic building structure.
  • Prevents the demolition and waste of the Downtown Library 
  • Prevents the demolition and waste of the Toadal Fitness building
  • Prevents embodied carbon for a new mega-structure, including a concrete parking garage
Conclusion: Greatly reduced embodied carbon - very sustainable 
Library Comparisons

Library Green Feature Comparisons

City's Claim:
The Library Mixed-Use Proposal would be Net Zero, LEED certified energy efficient and contain more green, sustainable features than the renovation.
Leaders in the Energy/Carbon Efficiency Industry on Net Zero & LEED:
“The blunt instrument of [Net Zero Energy] is kind of an outdated concept,” says Commissioner Andrew McAllister of the California Energy Commission. If the “real goal is carbon-free energy and decarbonization,” he says, net energy use over the course of a year may not be that helpful as a metric.
"[T]he National Trust study found it can take from 10 to 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome the negative climate change impacts made during its construction, so even a LEED Platinum building incurs a carbon debt during construction that it can take years to pay off."
Library Mixed-Use

The Library would include the following environmental components and advantages:




The Library would have the following disadvantages: 

  • Far more "embodied carbon

  • Removal of 10 large heritage trees 

  • Failing to follow the environmental principle of repurpose and renovate, instead of rebuild:

    • Waste of concrete foundation from demolished historical library

    • Require new concrete, a high carbon emission industry that has far reaching environmental damage

    • Waste of wood framing from demolished historical library

    • Require new wood framing for new build

  • City has NOT been awarded the state library grant needed to afford the solar panel array​.  This would be needed for solar energy in both library improvement options, yet is falsely being promoted as already included in the City's Mixed-Use proposal.

Renovated Library

The Library would have the following environmental components and advantages: 

  • Far less "embodied carbon

  • Foundation and framing/basic structure maintained, following the environmental principal of repurpose, and renovate, instead of demolish.

  • A new reinforced roof, designed to support photovoltaics (solar panels) (pg. 43)

  • New electrical to support photovoltaics (solar panels) (pg. 53)

    • Current renovation proposal includes electrical upgrades to support solar panel load for up to 20% of library's expected energy use.  

      • For the City to achieve a more full solar panel capacity for this project, 2 options are discussed:

        • A Line Side Tap (PG&E Transformer)​

        • New electrical service w/ switchboard

  • The City needs a state library grant to afford the solar panels for the the "Mixed-Use" proposal.  With the same grant, solar panels can be added to the renovation. 

  • Large landscaped area

  • Heritage trees saved

The Library would have the following disadvantages:

  • Existing proposal does not include asking PG&E to upgrade the transformer to support full array of solar.

  • Existing proposal at present maintains some fossil fuel use for heating.

Conclusion: Renovation of the library is far more sustainable than building anew

Parking Garage

"A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year."
-The Environmental Protection Agency
From Leaders in Parking Infrastructure & the Environment:
"The environmental effects of parking are not just from encouraging the use of the automobile over public transit or walking and biking (thus favoring the often more energy-intensive and polluting mode), but also from the material and process requirements in direct, indirect, and supply chain activities related to building and maintaining the infrastructure (Chester and Horvath 2009)."

Measure O

  1. Reduces in-town car trips by investing money NOT spent on building a new parking garage into better parking management systems.
  2. Reduces carbon footprint associated with car culture.
  3. Reduces carbon footprint associated with the construction of the garage.

The City's Library Mixed-Use Proposal

Threefold climate impacts of building a garage
  1. Construction with concrete results in large emissions of carbon dioxide. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world after China and the USA.  Garage construction is estimated to require 1,246 truckloads of concrete.
  2.  The need to pay a 30 year debt on the garage means the City will need more people to drive Downtown and park. The City program of METRO bus passes available to all workers Downtown could be cut back or eliminated. (The universal bus pass program was approved by a narrow 4-3 majority of the Council in 2019, with the Council members who support a garage voting no.)
  3.  Spending City revenue on a garage instead of affordable housing for the Downtown workforce misses the opportunity to for those workers to be able to walk to work.
Did Not Happen:
“Reduce within-town car trips by 10% by 2020.”
City of Santa Cruz Climate Action Plan (2012)
You cannot reduce auto trips by expanding auto capacity.
"Automobiles have a big footprint, from tailpipe emissions to road infrastructure."
The National Geographic
Conclusion: Not building the garage is better for our carbon footprint
Urban Forest

Urban Forest

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency -
"The use of trees and vegetation in the urban environment brings benefits beyond mitigating urban heat islands including:
  • Reduced energy use: Trees and vegetation that directly shade buildings decrease demand for air conditioning.
  • Improved air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions: By reducing energy demand, trees and vegetation decrease the production of associated air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. They also remove air pollutants and store and sequester carbon dioxide.
  • Enhanced stormwater management and water quality: Vegetation reduces runoff and improves water quality by absorbing and filtering rainwater.
  • Reduced pavement maintenance: Tree shade can slow deterioration of street pavement, decreasing the amount of maintenance needed.
  • Improved quality of life: Trees and vegetation provide aesthetic value, habitat for many species, and can reduce noise."
"The decline of large old trees in modified landscapes is of global conservation concern. Once large old trees are removed, they are difficult to replace in the short term due to typically prolonged time periods needed for trees to mature."

"Large old trees have been defined as keystone ecological structures because, relative to their size, they are disproportionate providers of resources crucial to other species."

Measure O

Saves a minimum of 10 large heritage trees on Lot 4 that:
  • reduce urban heat island effect
  • scrub our air of carbon dioxide and provide oxygen
  • provide valuable habitat in our generally lacking urban forest
  • increase quality of life for those living in or visiting downtown
Designates Lot 7 for affordable housing, where the trees can more easily be built around and maintained due to their location along the parcel's perimeter.

The City's Library Mixed-Use Proposal

Cuts down all heritage trees on Lot 4.  
This violates our Heritage Tree Ordinance by not even attempting to preserve the trees during the design process.

This violates best practices for maintaining urban forests for our longterm survival.
Conlusion Environment


The City's claims of environmental responsibility are false. Measure O offers a better way for our climate.  Passing Measure O is a crucial step in Santa Cruz to act on many environmental principles, including car culture, embodied carbon, urban forest maintenance and more.  

We must act locally now to affect needed change globally.
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