Let voters decide on our proposal for downtown Santa Cruz

Lira Filippini

Opinion - SC Sentinel, 11/03/2021 - A coalition of organizations has formed a FPPC campaign committee to bring a voter’s initiative to the 2022 ballot. The Our Downtown, Our Future group has come together to propose a different plan for our downtown than the City’s current mixed- use proposal (garage-library-housing). We support the City’s plan to build affordable housing. We see our Santa Cruz population growing, and the densification expected for our future poses tricky puzzles to solve so that we can structure the most sustainable future for our changing community. Will we take this moment in history to look at what the various needs of our community are, look at our layout, look at our resources, and then make decisions that best serve our needs as we grow upward? Well documented in scientific and psychological literature is that we need close access to open space and nature. There aren’t many locations downtown to allocate as a space to fulfill that need, in a quickly densifying population. We believe that Lot 4, home to the weekly Farmers’ Market, is the optimal central location for community open space and outdoor public events downtown. Its 10 big and beautiful heritage trees have seen decades of community gathering, sheltering us from the sun and grounding us in shared community roots. This shared experience and history creates a “sense of place,” shown to be very important for engaged and thriving communities. When we found out that the City wanted to build the new library here, coupled with needed housing – but packed-in against a massive six-story parking garage – we felt there must be a better way to provide the things we need for our community with everything in its optimal place. There must be a better way to build this affordable housing that looks out over a park instead of a parking garage, and that gets fresh air instead of exhaust fumes; a way to actually fund even more affordable housing, and a way to commit to a healthy planet with the decisions and actions we make. After much work and problem solving from an array of community advocacy groups, we present a solution. Our community initiative proposes that the City amend the General Plan with the following:

• Prioritize 100% affordable housing on specific City-owned lots downtown, including Front Street’s Lot 7, where residents would be near the San Lorenzo River and park instead of against a huge parking garage. • To create the City’s first dedicated funding stream for affordable housing by diverting annual slated parking revenue away from building the expensive and deemed unnecessary garage. Parking revenue would also supplement Measure S funds for Library renovation and Lot 4 improvements for the Farmers’ Market space. • To preserve the large, sunny and centrally located Lot 4 parcel as a public space that provides a permanent location for the Farmers’ Market, saving 10 heritage trees, and creating the future potential for a green community space – a Downtown Commons. • To renovate the City’s Public Library at its historic Civic Center location, honoring our history and sense of place. We hope that this will be embraced by our community who want to create a society where the environment is upheld, where people who work and study here find housing, and where we can all have access to community space to move, breath, engage and gather. All in all, we say “let the voters decide.” Lira Filippini is a community activist and the Co-Chair of Our Downtown, Our Future.

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