Op-ed in the SC Sentinel, 4/14/2022
The Our Downtown Our Future Ballot Initiative is exactly what it claims to be, an effort to stop designing OUR downtown via a series of back-room deals that would demolish our library and displace our farmers market to an inferior location. It’s a chance to build for a different future, wherein we take global warming seriously and stop subsidizing automobiles.
Affordable housing, which is supported by both proponents of the Initiative and its detractors, is not the issue.
It’s all the other stuff in the “mixed use” development proposed to be built on the downtown farmers market lot.
Specifically the issue here is the parking garage, the rotten heart of the city of Santa Cruz’s proposal and a $30 million subsidy of global warming. The city staff have been trying to build a huge concrete parking garage on the farmers market lot for decades but have had no community support for it so they added a library and affordable housing to try to sweeten the deal.
Our problem is the pig, not the green paint on it.
But here’s the thing, we can have a beautiful library and affordable housing (at the proposed site and/or at another) without a parking garage. And the parking garage, not the affordable housing, is the reason that the “mixed use” political deal is opposed by climate activists of all ages, including Youth for Climate Justice and, (after multiple approvals at the chapter and state level), the Sierra Club. We are disappointed that affordable housing advocates, who we very much respect, would sign onto a deal that includes subsidizing automobile use for another half a century, even while per capita use of automobiles downtown continues to decline, and parking for downtown businesses was available even on summer weekends prior to the pandemic, And we are confused why they would support using $30 million of public money for the garage that could be used for affordable housing.
Don Lane’s recent Sentinel Guest Commentary (April 6) supporting the city plan leaves out the fact that our downtown library would be demolished and hauled off to the dump due to factors entirely political. Recall that we voted for the Measure S parcel tax, the first line of which read: “to modernize, upgrade and repair local libraries,” not to demolish the main branch and rebuild it as part of a parking garage. That was a deal made between city staff and officials, not with we the taxpayers. But again, downtown belongs to us, not to the deal makers.
Then there’s the farmers market. Lane states his support for moving it to the site of the demolished library, essentially trading the library for the market at the cost of $50 to $100 million, beautiful magnolia trees, and years of noisy and dusty construction. Or ... we skip trading the two lots, make the farmers market’s current location its permanent home and have a beautifully renovated library.
A glimpse of the real motivation for the bait (affordable housing) and switch (market to library and back), can be seen in the emails between city staff and developers of a luxury hotel planned for Front Street, in which the city would sell the hoteliers the “small parcels” Lane refers to, AND provide the hotel with 185 subsidized parking sites for its guests, the number of increased spaces to be provided (coincidentally) by the proposed parking garage.
The luxury hotel, not affordable housing, is the only project currently planned to replace city-owned surface lots used for parking.
Our Downtown Our Future would rectify back-room deals that trade the world’s climate and sell off public resources for luxury hotels. It would stop subsidizing automobile use, gentrifying downtown and demolishing public buildings.
Those are the real issues here. Affordable housing is merely the chocolate coating on the unsavory package that lies within.
Micah Posner is a resident of Santa Cruz and served on the Santa Cruz City Council from 2012 to 2016.