Column - SC Sentinel, 11/20/2021 -The lies, distortions and red herrings propagated by a group of proponents of the mixed-use garage-library-apartments in a Nov. 12 guest commentary in the Sentinel are almost as shameless as the bad faith, deviousness and duplicity of the City of Santa Cruz (management and council) in their relentlessly one-sided campaign to impose this urban atrocity on the community.
Measure S, the 2016 library bond measure passed by voters, said nothing about moving the downtown library, much less moving it into a garage. The survey circulated by the council-selected Downtown Library Advisory Committee as to what people wanted in a new library also conveniently omitted any reference to mixing it with a garage. When people found out they’d been baited-and-switched, the uproar moved the council to replace much of the parking with “affordable housing,” which no one could object to. Public comment at council meetings and correspondence ran about four-to-one against the library-garage.
So the proponents’ claim that the community was consulted and somehow approved, by way of “a thorough public study,” a project it never asked for and didn’t want is a bad joke. Equally false is the assertion that the Our Downtown, Our Future ballot measure, whose petitions will soon be circulating, threatens to reduce the amount of affordable housing downtown. To the contrary, more units of affordable housing are proposed for Lot 7, an equally pedestrian-friendly location a short block from Pacific Avenue, than would fit in the mixed-use project on Lot 4.
Farmers Market management prudently and wisely has not taken sides in this controversy as it doesn’t wish to alienate the city. But anyone who has frequented the current market on Wednesdays on Lot 4, with its big shady magnolias and liquidambars, knows that it is a far superior location, with its afternoon sun, than the narrower, darker space on Lot 7.
The idea that constructing a gigantic concrete building at the sacrifice of carbon-absorbing, oxygen-breathing trees is an environmentally responsible way to develop the last open space downtown is an insult to our intelligence — and the mixed-use advocates never even mention the sacrifice of the trees and the tradeoff of trees to concrete in their paeans to the alleged greenness of their project.
The pro-mixed-use people (under the umbrella of Downtown Forward, a group organized by two-time ex-mayor Cynthia Mathews from her decades of cultivated relations in city politics) seem to think their misrepresentation of the Our Downtown, Our Future ballot measure will distract the public from the political malpractice and physical monstrosity of their plan. They continually claim that the current library is so decrepit that it can’t be renovated, when the very architects they’ve hired to design the library-garage-housing project have already sketched a viable design for renovation of the Church Street library — and such a library could have every feature of a “21st-century library” they falsely claim can only be built as the ground floor of a six-story (five-story? seven-story?) garage-apartment complex.
Resistance to the city’s ill-conceived plan has nothing to do with antigrowth nostalgia and everything to do with common sense and optimum use of public space in an urban landscape dominated by large blocks of wall-to-wall buildings. By unmixing their architectural mashup, renovating the Church Street library, building ample affordable housing on Lot 7 and other city lots, and incorporating what parking is necessary into other developments, Lot 4 and its trees can be saved with the potential of its eventual development as a much-needed public plaza.
The Our Downtown, Our Future petition gives Santa Cruz voters a choice between competing visions for the heart of our city and the type of urban environment we wish to inhabit. It provides for affordable housing, rebuilds and improves the library in place, and leaves a bit of breathing space amid an increasingly chockablock downtown streetscape. Citizens of this community deserve a chance to talk back at the ballot box to public officials who have arrogantly ignored them up to now.