Letter to Good Times, 11/13/2021 - Thanks to Jacob Pierce for his article and background on the Gibbs report. I moved to this area recently after retiring, so I missed the original report, but it all sounds painfully familiar because I grew up and went to school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, whose story is probably well known to Gibbs even though he wasn’t yet born when most of the drama went down. There were a lot of similarities that Santa Cruzans would do well to consider. A quick summary for local readers:
In the late 1950s, Kalamazoo was looking at a decaying downtown as major local businesses fled to the suburbs, so the city hired Victor Gruen Associates to do a study and propose a modernization plan. Some elements included: a mall on one of the town’s main streets, a “belt way” to route auto traffic around the central business district with several parking structures along it to provide free/cheap parking within walking distance of shops (an idea that Santa Cruz has a lot of trouble with), and which would have surrounded a central public park. It all went down in flames in a 1960 election, when voters failed to approve a 30-year municipal bond to finance initial construction. The mall was built, but it lasted barely a decade before most of the businesses it was intended to save left town. They never returned, and the mall was ripped out. One irony is that if bonds had been issued in 1960, they would have been paid off by 1990, and the downtown would be in much better shape than it is today.
As far as I can tell, Santa Cruz’s downtown is dying, like Kalamazoo’s did. It’s dominated by bars, restaurants, head shops, and tawdry young-women’s clothing boutiques, which appeal mainly to tourists and UCSC students. The department stores and other family-supporting businesses that Gibbs discussed went to 41st Avenue and Capitola Mall long ago. Other businesses went to the sadly neglected Eastside, while still others are fleeing to Aptos, turning Soquel Drive into our own little El Camino Real. Unless local residents can come together on a plan to resuscitate the downtown business district that includes dealing sensibly with housing, automobiles and parking, and light-rail transit, some of us have a pretty clear idea of what Santa Cruz is apt to look like in 20 years, and it’s not a pretty picture. Instead of incessantly squabbling with each other, you folks could have helped to fix this.