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SANTA CRUZ >> A decision on whether to remodel Santa Cruz’s downtown library or build a new library on Cedar Street with a parking garage and housing is expected to be made June 23 at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting.
Tuesday, a council committee of Mayor Justin Cummings, Vice Mayor Donna Meyers and Councilmember Sandy Brown heard a presentation by Group 4 Architecture on the costs of a new library on Cedar Street between Cathcart and Lincoln streets. The committee heard a similar presentation in December on the possible remodel of the current library on Church Street. The committee is expected to recommend one of the options to the council June 23.
Tuesday’s meeting was held on Zoom with about 100 viewers. Council members did not give clues on where they stood. They will weigh the options based on the following criteria: The quality of the library, environmental benefits and concerns, financial costs and risks, and other community benefits such as affordable housing.
The council is expected to choose from three options. The base cost for all these options is $27 million.
- A current library remodel with a new, larger first-floor children’s area, a new circulation desk, a new first-floor community room, a new but smaller adult reading area on the second floor, three new small meeting rooms and a new but smaller teen area on the second floor.
- A new one-story library on Cedar Street with housing and a parking garage above it.
- A new one-story library on Cedar Street with housing above and a parking garage adjacent to it.
The new construction would replace a city-owned parking lot where the Wednesday farmers’ market operates. The proposal would relocate the farmers’ market to a lot on Cathcart and Front streets. The proposal also calls for the city to buy a building where Toadal Fitness operates on Lincoln Street. The details and costs for that acquisition are still unclear.
While the initial costs per square foot are similar between the three options, the latter two options allow the city to collect about $3 million to $6 million in air rights fees from housing developers. Air rights fees are collected by cities in mixed-use developments to share the cost of infrastructure such as walls, columns, electrical systems and the foundation. Market-rate housing units would allow for higher city-collected fees.
Fees could be used toward the cost of construction and allow a larger library.
The first option, a remodel, calls for a 30,400 square-foot library. It’s smaller than the current library because the current library’s outbuildings would be demolished. Those buildings’ electrical, mechanical and other systems are outdated.
The second option is a new one-story library with housing and a garage above it. That plan would allow the largest library, about 44,000 square feet, assuming enough air rights fees are collected. That’s the same size as the current downtown library.
Tuesday, 24 members of advocacy groups and organizations spoke during public comment.
Some, such as Rick Longinotti of the Campaign for Sustainable Transportation, John Hall from Downtown Commons Advocates and Jean Brocklebank from Don’t Bury the Library, urged the council members to favor the remodel. Reasons included: Consultants’ advice to address parking demand in more modern ways than a garage, disapproval of the farmers’ market displacement and the adequacy of a remodel across most of the committee’s criteria.
A 14-year-old speaker from Santa Cruz Youth for Climate Justice asked the council members to consider climate change as the first priority. The demolition and construction associated with the mixed-use proposal would create waste, and a new garage would encourage people to drive, said Tamara, who did not give her last name during the online meeting.
“It isn’t worth destroying our future to have a more modern library. It is more important that we get to enjoy our library for generations to come,” said Tamara.
Others, such as former Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, who represented the group Smart Solutions to Homelessness; Maggie Ivy, CEO of Visit Santa Cruz County; and Mark Mesiti-Miller of the advocacy group Downtown Forward, urged the council members to take advantage of the opportunity to build affordable housing.
Lane said that along with financial costs and risks, the council should consider what could be lost — “in this instance, the opportunity cost associated with this once-in-a-generation opportunity if we fail to incorporate addressing the affordable housing crisis as we create a new library.”
The council is under time pressure. The city has about five years left to complete construction, according to the timeline set by the bond measure voters approved in 2016. If the council waits much longer to decide, the city will have less time to pay back the bond, and therefore have less money for the project, said City Manager Martin Bernal.
Bernal also said that if voters wait too long to see construction, it will jeopardize future bond measures. The costs of construction and bond issuance may rise as well.
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.