Below is a list of frequently asked questions we've gathered from folks in the period leading up to the launch of this initiative. We regularly update these. If you have a question not answered on this list, please email us at email@example.com.
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What do you hope to accomplish with this ballot initiative? How will this change Downtown Santa Cruz?
The Our Downtown, Our Future initiative creates a fresh vision for Downtown Santa Cruz, one that prioritizes affordable housing on specified City-owned downtown parking lots. It also preserves our iconic Downtown Farmers’ Market on its current Lot 4 space as the centerpiece of a city park, a future Downtown Commons for the public. Our initiative replaces the City's plan of an 8-story, mixed-use building, including its 315-space parking garage, and spanning the entirety of Lot 4. If the initiative passes, the focus on developing affordable housing on the specified city-owned surface parking lots would significantly change the overall experience of downtown. The initiative specifies that Lot 4, could include a permanent ground-level structure for the Farmers’ Market, possibly with affordable housing above, and space for a green central park and Farmers' Market outdoor stalls, but with no parking garage. Other specified parking lots, for example, Lot 7, on Front Street, will no longer be “dead” cityscape space: they can be developed with affordable housing on levels above ground-level retail space and parking.
The initiative's parking proposals reflect the work of the 2017 Nelson/Nygaard Downtown Santa Cruz Parking Study, commissioned by the City. As the study advises, implementing strategies to utilize current parking inventory would better serve our community than building a parking garage, and so the initiative directs excess parking revenue to support transit, better biking and
pedestrian infrastructure (meaning more safety), and more efficient use of current parking with more up to date parking technology, for example.
The initiative makes appropriate use of the Measure S bond funds voters approved in 2016. The then-director of SC Public Libraries said during the campaign, “The downtown Santa Cruz branch, the flagship of the system, requires a comprehensive renovation.”
The initiative reaffirms that our historic library be renovated at its present location, anchoring a reimagined Civic Center by connecting the Library with our City Hall and a newly updated Civic Auditorium together in a civic plaza. Jayson Architecture has presented a plan for a thorough renovation and updating of the Library.
Overall, why is the ballot measure you are proposing better than the city's present plan for Lot 4, Lot 7, and repurposing the present site of the Downtown Library?
Lot 4, where the Downtown Farmers' Market has sold fresh local produce, meat, fish and wares to residents of Santa Cruz and the County for twenty years, deserves better than to be filled with cement and steel to house an enormous 8-story mixed-use structure. It's our last large public space in Downtown, and its location is ideal for a green, central commons, bathed in unobstructed
afternoon sunlight from its western exposure. It has the potential to be the premier event space in Downtown, and we lose a unique opportunity forever if we replace it with a 8-story concrete structure. Lot 7at Cathcart and Front streets, one location where the City is exploring relocating the Farmers' Market, is an inferior location for the Market and events, deep in shadow most of the day, lying up against the increasingly busy traffic of Front Street.
However, Lot 7 would be an excellent location on which to build housing, a stone's throw away from the transit center and the Soquel Avenue transit arterial. Occupants would have easy access to both the Downtown green commons at Lot 4 and the San Lorenzo River, sitting midway between the two. In fact, Downtown Commons Advocates asked a University of San Francisco professor’s architecture class to undertake a demonstration project by designing affordable housing for Lot 7. The students produced demonstration projects showing that more housing can be built on Lot 7 than what the City plans for Lot 4’s multiple-use structure. Having the Farmers’ Market and public space on Lot 4 and affordable housing on Lot 7 is smart urban planning.
We also believe that renovating the current library, following Jayson Architects' completed preliminary design, makes better sense from environmental and cultural points of view. Their plan is ready for creation of construction drawings. Far too often, the inclination to abandon what's existing and build new squanders our resources and erases our history. Andrew Carnegie funded and built the first downtown library at its present location in 1907. With initial construction of City Hall in 1937 and completion of the Civic Auditorium in 1940, the Downtown Library became a central component of a Civic Center, representing the value of knowledge in a democratic society. The Downtown Library can be renovated to make Carnegie, and us, proud.
I don't live Downtown, and I visit another Farmers' Market, not the Downtown one. Why should I care about this measure?
The initiative does a lot more than securing Lot 4 as the home of the Farmers' Market and Antique Faire, as well as future entertainment events. It prioritizes affordable housing on specific city-owned parking surface lots Downtown. Everyone understands the enormous negative impacts the lack of housing brings about for all of us who live in Santa Cruz. Those who make up our community – young families, teachers, city and health care workers, tourism workers, business owners and employees, among others, need affordable housing close to their jobs. Many live far away, creating commute congestion and undermining the City’s economy, making it less diverse and less lively. We need to offer housing to workers and families who live in Santa Cruz, not requiring them to commute from South County, Monterey or San Benito counties. This ballot initiative puts affordable housing as its first priority. Of course, visitors who come to Downtown Santa Cruz will enjoy a bustling community, featuring a newly renovated library at the Civic Center, an enhanced home for the Farmers' Market and an urban experience that makes the safety of walkers and cyclists an imperative, not one focused on a parking garage.
Although only Santa Cruz city residents can vote for the ballot measure, people in the County and beyond will benefit from an economically strong Downtown that showcases our last, largest open public space. A future Downtown Commons will be a community gathering place and premier entertainment venue, featuring public music performances and fairs, First Fridays Art, dance, and theater productions right in the center of town. Our Downtown needs to be recast as an important center of our wider community and an economic anchor for the City and for all County residents--a bustling green public space will achieve that.
City's Mixed-Use Project
Aren’t you really just trying to stop the Lot 4 mixed-use project?
Actually, it’s rather the case that a better way has been found to accomplish the same goals and more, so the Lot 4 project has become irrelevant. We are for a better way for Santa Cruz.
The City Council already has approved this project and has allocated money for it. Is this a waste of time and money?
The City Council is nowhere near approving this project as a specific proposal. Its City staff have not demonstrated that there is the money to build it. At a meeting in June 2020, the Council approved allocating funding for planning, even though around 80% of the public commenting on the project opposed it. If money is being wasted, it is being wasted by a City Council that is acting in opposition to the public. Basically, the City should not be sinking ever more deeply into the "sunk costs" fallacy.
Unfortunately, the list of wasted spending by the City of Santa Cruz is a long one. It wasted $7 million dollars on a desalinization project before pitched public opposition stopped it. It also paid $100,00 for a study of parking issues by consultants Nelson/Nygaard that has never been scheduled for City Council presentation because the report shows building a new parking structure is unnecessary. When the City wastes money either by spending it on projects in spite of large public opposition or by not using the expertise it has paid for, it risks lowering the voters’ willingness to support tax measures that the City might actually need.
The Council can terminate the Lot 4 project at any time, with obligations to pay only for services already performed, thus avoiding any further waste of taxpayer dollars.
Isn't the mixed-use project a done deal? Didn’t the City Council already vote? How can this Measure be implemented when the City is moving forward with its plan?
Although the City Council has approved proceeding with planning for the Lot 4 mixed-use project, the City Council will not be able to approve the project until after environmental review. The City Council can suspend planning at any time. The City’s Director of Economic Development, Bonnie Lipscomb, has publicly acknowledged the possibility that the project would not move forward (SC Sentinel, 9/16/21). In its present planning and management contracts concerning the project, the City is obligated to pay for services rendered only up until such point as voters or the Council determine that the project is not to proceed.
Does your initiative/measure stop the 100-125 affordable housing units from being built on Lot 4?
The affordable housing is the only part of the City's Mixed-Use project that our measure specifically still allows to be built on Lot 4. Details on that are found in Section 4 C of the initiative.
The measure identifies a number of City-owned parking lots Downtown to be prioritized for development of affordable housing on the upper levels. Aren’t some of these lots too small to “pencil out” for affordable housing?
It is impossible for anyone to make a firm assertion in advance, especially with unknowns about available grants, etc. We should make a full and honest effort to explore all possible avenues the City has, rather than naysaying from the outset, “it won’t work.” What we can do is base our knowledge on previous experience.
Let’s compare the proposed lots to a City affordable-housing project currently in the works. Pacific Station South has a building “footprint” of 15,662 sq. ft. plus about 7220 sq. ft. pasejo. By comparison, Lots 7, 8, and 9 all are larger than the footprint of the Pacific Station South building. Lots 14 and 16 combined are about the same size as the Pacific Station South footprint. Because Pacific Station South has “pencilled out,” we can be confident that the lots proposed in the Measure will too.
With a committed and engaged City staff, we can do this!
Are you opposed to the construction of affordable housing downtown, as some have claimed? Isn’t this measure against affordable housing?
We are not opposed to affordable housing, quite the opposite. We are for affordable housing. This measure proposes to develop significantly more units of affordable housing than what the City is proposing for Lot 4. We want a City that increases the amount of affordable housing Downtown while also increasing the public space available to the increased number of people living Downtown.
Your group is trying to stop an affordable housing project of 107 units on Lot 4, when there is no guarantee that housing will be developed on the sites in your measure? Isn’t a bird in the hand worth more than the vague future potential of birds in the bush?
There is no bird in the hand. At one point, the City anticipated that construction already would be completed by now. Currently, the estimated completion date is "July to December 2026." And of course, that is the most optimistic timeline. Key unresolved issues may make the project infeasible, or require changes and years more of delay:
Even with all Measure S bond funds available for funding the Downtown Library portion of the project, there is a shortfall of at least $5 million, and millions of dollars more to fund the size of the Library in the City’s concept. No guaranteed funding source has yet been identified to fill the gap.
Bond funding for the garage portion of the project depends on demonstrating to bond rating agencies that the Downtown Parking District has sufficient revenue stream to finance the bond. Parking revenue is currently well below the expenditures of the Downtown Parking District in spite of doubling of parking fees in the last two years. Not only does the District need to get out of the red ink, it needs to demonstrate a considerable surplus. It is not clear at this time when, if ever, that may occur.
Affordable housing takes time to develop. Obtaining affordable housing tax credits can delay a project for years. The Ocean Street Apartments, completed in 2021, were a decade in development. The Metro Project on Pacific Avenue is to include affordable housing, but it has been more than 7 years in the making, without ground being broken.
Adequate funding for the affordable housing component of the Lot 4 mixed-use project has not yet been identified. Funding applications for the Lot 4 mixed-use project can be shifted to a Lot 7 project. We can build more affordable housing there than the 107 units promised on Lot 4, and we need to roll up our sleeves and do it. Given the amount of time it takes to develop affordable housing, changing the location is highly unlikely to affect the date of completion.
We are making a decision for the future of Santa Cruz and it is important to get it right. This decision will reverberate across the decades to the generations who follow us. Having affordable housing on Lot 7 instead of Lot 4 yields more housing and keeps the Downtown Farmers’ Market where it is.
The proposed mixed-use development on Lot 4 is slated to have 107 units of very-low housing, for people earning 50% of the area’s median income or lower, in order to reach its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which the City has to do by the end of 2023 (Bonnie Lipscomb, SC Sentinel, 9/16/21]. Can your initiative accomplish the same thing?
Yes! By prioritizing permanently affordable housing on Lot 7, 120-180 affordable-housing units can be built. There is no reason why the City could not match or even increase the number of Lot 4 very-low income units, placing them on Lot 7 rather than Lot 4. We support the City moving quickly and effectively to meet, and preferably exceed, its housing needs allocation for very-low income people.
Environmentalists call for urban infill development rather than suburban sprawl. In Santa Cruz shouldn’t this mean building a new parking garage so that surface parking lots can be developed for housing?
Our initiative prioritizes Downtown Parking District surplus revenue for the development of affordable housing. If the massive 6-level garage is built, there will be no surplus revenue. The initiative specifically encourages the development of 8 City-owned surface parking lots where 100% affordable housing is prioritized on upper levels. It also allows for parking on the ground level of those parking lots developed with affordable housing. People who need parking need it where they live, not in some multistory central garage five blocks away. Because there is a considerable surplus parking capacity in Downtown Santa Cruz, building a parking garage does not enable more infill development.
The City contracted with Nelson\Nygaard to produce a Downtown Parking Strategic Plan. Nelson\Nygaard noted that "In aggregate almost thirty percent of off-street parking in the Downtown remains empty even at the peak of the peak times.” The report recommends addressing future parking demand without building a new parking structure: "The most fiscally prudent approach to accommodating additional demand: Modernize parking management and better align parking prices to the cost of building and maintaining the system.”
Downtown Santa Cruz is overbuilt with parking. Downtown Santa Cruz has 1.8 parking spaces per 1000sq ft. of commercial space. Boulder, Colorado’s Central Business District has 1 space per 1000 sq ft. Boulder is not planning any more garages, according to their planning staff.
Where’s everyone going to park when all of this new development has been built downtown?
Downtown is overbuilt with parking. The Nelson\Nygaard, Santa Cruz Strategic Parking Plan reports on the City’s annual census of parking occupancy, "Almost 30% of off-street parking in the Downtown remains empty even at the peak of the peak times.”
Patrick Siegman, who worked on the Nelson\Nygaard study, estimates that the surplus of parking will continue for the foreseeable future. His parking demand model included estimates from City staff on future development Downtown. Siegman reports, “What we see from the model is … the City Council-approved price increases will reduce demand enough, so that even with new development and the loss of some surface parking spaces, you’ll still have a surplus” (City Council study session, 3/19/2019).
Visitors to Santa Cruz may have trouble finding a parking space if they don’t know where to look. That’s why a consultant, Kimley-Horn, advised the City to implement technology that allows drivers with smart phones to locate vacant parking spaces (City Planning Commission, 10/15/2015).
What about the long waiting lists for monthly parking permits downtown that we always hear about?
The City of Santa Cruz offers discount monthly permits to people who work or live Downtown. The Department of Public Works caps the number of permits, based on off-street parking capacity. In FY 2020 there were 786 people on the waiting list for permits. Currently, there are zero people on the waiting list. This reflects the impact of the Covid recession. Secondarily it reflects a decline in demand due to City increases in the cost of the monthly permits, rising each year from $38 in 2018 to $75 in 2022.
It is an economic fact of life that there will be a waiting list for available spaces if they are offered at a discount. Discount permits are a way to avoid the $10 daily cost of parking in a garage. Paying by the day for 20 work days per month would cost a worker $200.
The City’s current cost of supplying a parking space Downtown is $175 per month ($6,200,000 annual expense of the Downtown Parking District divided by 2950 spaces.) The cost of supplying a parking space would increase with the construction of a new garage. According to the 2018 staff report to the City Council, a 600-space parking garage (later revised to 400 and currently to 315 spaces) would cost $2.9 million in yearly debt service for 30 years. Not counting increased maintenance costs of the 600-space garage, the annual expenses of the Downtown Parking District would increase by 47%. (The current City estimate for a 315-space parking structure, as of December 2021, is that the construction cost will be up to $20,000,000.)
It is not financially sustainable to build new parking in order to supply parking spaces at a deep discount to everyone who desires it. Sooner or later, the Parking District would need to raise parking prices to meet the actual cost of supplying the parking. The era of deep discounts would be over. Ironically, the high price of parking will reduce demand, leaving stranded assets of vacant concrete structures. Nor is it a climate-friendly goal to subsidize parking.
If the Farmers’ Market Board hasn’t endorsed your measure, isn’t it arrogant for you to dictate their location?
We have been in strong communication with the Farmers’ Market executive director and board of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, and we have a good relationship that has nothing to do with arrogance. The Board has not endorsed any approach. Its highest priority is to obtain a settled permanent location with facilities encouraging year-round use. We support that goal and our initiative prioritizes Lot 4 exactly for that purpose. The Downtown Farmers’ Market is tremendously successful at its present location. Our initiative will keep it there and lay the basis for making it even better.
Renovating the existing Downtown Library would require relocating it during construction. How long would this be for, and how much would it cost? Isn’t this a deal killer?
For renovation, the library would have to be relocated during the period of construction. A temporary location was used for the Library when the present building was constructed in 1968. Presently, there is lots of available rental space on Pacific Avenue for a temporary library.
Noll & Tam indicates that the cost of a temporary location for two years could be approximately $750,000, plus $90,000 for moving expenses. However, actual renovation work could take closer to one year than two years.
Related to the cost of relocation during construction is a larger issue, the shortfall in funding for the library. It will cost less to renovate the Library than to build a new facility in the mixed-use Lot 4 project.
Can we renovate the existing library?
Yes! The building’s basic structure is sound. It withstood the 1989 earthquake. Jayson Architecture has presented a thorough plan for renovation, available here. The renovation will create a 21st-century Library that includes new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, shelving, carpeting, lighting, and elevators. The design shifts the main entrance to face the courtyard of City Hall. Also included are study rooms, a teen space, a greatly increased children’s area with its own outdoor patio and a large community room available for meetings after hours, also with an outdoor patio. These outdoor spaces could not be created in the Lot 4 mixed-use building, because the footprint, including the parking structure, will cover the entirety of Lot 4.
Is the Measure S bond funding really sufficient to renovate the Downtown Library? The Jayson Architecture proposal only included “base” finishes. Where would you get the money to cover the shortfall? And to go beyond a merely “base” finish?
There is a significant shortfall of at least $5 million in Measure S bond funds to implement either renovation or construction of a new facility. The cost per square foot of renovating the existing Downtown Library is slightly less than for new construction of a facility as part of a mixed-use project on Lot 4 – both with the same “base” level of finishes. Construction for making the proposed mixed-use library facility significantly larger, still with the “base” level of finish, would cost at least $2.88 million dollars more. Going beyond the “base” finishes would cost approximately the same per square foot in either approach. Overall, it would cost less to renovate the existing library beyond a “base” finish than for what has been promised for the new construction as part of the Lot 4 mixed-use project. Meanwhile, the renovation of the existing Library can proceed much more quickly, and the purchasing power of the bond money continues to erode with inflation.
What did the Library Measure S bond measure raise funds for and authorize?
Measure S, passed in 2016, authorized the Santa Cruz Libraries Facilities Financing Authority to issue $67,000,000 in bonds, “To modernize, upgrade and repair local libraries in Santa Cruz, Aptos, Live Oak, Scotts Valley, Boulder Creek, Capitola, Felton and La Selva Beach -replace failing roofs, outdated bathrooms, electrical systems/ structurally damaged facilities; support growing use by children, seniors, veterans and others; expand access to modern technology; and construct/ expand facilities where necessary.”
Doesn’t voters' approval of Measure S vote show community support for building a new library downtown?
No. The 2014-2023 Library Facilites Master Plan outlined various rennovation plans for the library at its current location, including a complete rebuild. Voters used these templates to decide on a yes or no vote for Measure S. The Measure makes no specific mention of building a new library downtown and during the campaign, spokespersons and news media all focussed on renovation of the existing Downtown Library. As then Library Director Janis O’Driscoll wrote in Good Times, May 11, 2016: “The downtown Santa Cruz branch, the flagship of the system, requires a comprehensive renovation.” A public proposal for building a new facility was only made in December 2016, months after the vote for Measure S. That decision was based on a private meeting of public officials held in September 2016, after Measure S was passed by voters. According to the City Council minutes of December 6, 2016, "Library and Public Works (PW) staff met in September to discuss the feasibility of siting a new Library Main Branch at the current site of Parking Lot 4, on Cedar Street between Lincoln and Cathcart Streets." To our knowledge, no public mention was made of this possibility before December 6, that is, 6 months after Measure S was approved.