A property buyout was approved at Highway 1 and River Street on Tuesday at the Santa Cruz City Council meeting. The city plans to use eminent domain to acquire land belonging to Central Home Supply, which would force the business to move. The land grab is part of the city’s plan to improve safety and traffic at one of its most congested intersections. We hear from Rusty Santee, co-owner of Central Home Supply, who objects.
The City of Santa Cruz wants to improve traffic and safety at the Highway 1 / River Street intersection by adding lanes. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)


Stephen Baxter: Welcome to Santa Cruz Local, where we watch our public institutions and hold power to account. I’m Stephen Baxter.


The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday took a step toward the forced buyout of Central Home Supply at 808 River St. for a road widening project. The property sits at the busy corner of Highway 1 and Highway 9 where Caltrans and city leaders have aimed to improve safety for years. The council voted on Tuesday to pursue eminent domain of the Central Home Supply building and a home next to it — but it’s headed to court. Kara Meyberg Guzman has more.


Kara Meyberg Guzman:More than 100,000 drivers go through the intersection of Highways 1 and 9 every day. It’s one of the busiest crossings in town. It’s technically Caltrans property, but the city’s been working to improve safety and traffic there since the late 1980s.

Now the city has a $2.8 million grant to fix the intersection. The project would include adding an additional left turn lane on Highway 1 into Harvey West and another northbound lane on Highway 9. It would also include adding another northbound lane on River Street, by the Gateway Plaza, and another left-turn lane out of Harvey West, onto Highway 1.

The Highway 1 – River Street intersection currently has one left-turn lane on Highway 1 onto River Street, one northbound lane on Highway 9, one lane heading north on River Street by the Gateway Plaza, and two left-turn lanes on River Street heading out of Harvey West.

I know that’s a lot to picture. Basically it’s adding four lanes to that busy corner. Check out the map on our website. Chris Schneiter, the city’s assistant director of public works, described some of the benefits of the project.

Chris Schneiter: The new lanes and lane transitions and lane widths will improve traffic flow and reduce the number of collisions at the intersection. Improvements are also made for bikes and pedestrians.

KMG: To make room for all those new lanes, the city needs the Central Home Supply showroom land and the tenant-occupied house next door. The Santee family owns both properties.

Central Home Supply, a construction materials store, has been at the intersection for 45 years. The city has been trying to negotiate a buyout of the properties for months. An appraisal pegged the value of the land to be taken at $1.7 million. But negotiation has stalled, as the Santees commissioned their own appraisal, but have not yet received their report. Here’s Rusty Santee, co-owner of Central Home Supply, who addressed the council Tuesday.

Santa Cruz city leaders say that the city needs to use eminent domain to force Central Home Supply to sell part of its land, so the city can widen River Street. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

RUSTY SANTEE: The eventual plan before you has a minimal take but most of the valuable portion of our business, our sales, our showroom and offices, our parking and bunkers, are going away with this.

KMG: The Santees and the city’s appraiser agreed that the business would no longer be viable at that site if the land was taken.

RUSTY SANTEE: It’s the same as someone wanting a minimal portion of your house for the public good. Imagine they take your kitchen, bathroom and a wall of your bedroom. Are you going to live there now? That’s kind of what we’re left with.

The two yellow X’s mark the parcels where the City of Santa Cruz wants use eminent domain to force the sale of land. (Map data copyright of Google)

KMG: Councilmember Cynthia Mathews said because the $2.8 million grant is set to expire if they don’t take action by this summer, she wanted to move forward with the eminent domain.
Despite Santee’s objection, the council unanimously approved moving forward with the acquisition. Councilmembers Chris Krohn and Drew Glover were absent for the vote.
City leaders said the next step is for Santa Cruz County Superior Court to decide how much money the Santee family will get if the land is taken.


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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.

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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.