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SANTA CRUZ >> A controversial plan for a new downtown library with affordable housing above and an adjacent parking garage advanced Tuesday with a 4-2 vote by the Santa Cruz City Council.
The project, which calls for a one-story library, a minimum 50 affordable housing units and a maximum 400 parking spaces, will be built on a Cedar Street parking lot where the Wednesday farmers market meets. The project may include market-rate housing, but that decision has not yet been made.
The project is similar to one approved by the council in 2018. It stalled last year when new council members took office.
As part of the plan approved Tuesday, city leaders will resume discussions to permanently move the farmers market to a parking lot at Front and Cathcart streets. City leaders also will begin a public process to consider options for the existing library on Church Street “including affordable housing, a community commons, child care and other public uses,” according to a motion made by Vice Mayor Donna Meyers.
Mayor Justin Cummings, Meyers and Councilmembers Martine Watkins and Renee Golder voted for the project. Council members Katherine Beiers and Sandy Brown voted against it. Councilmember Cynthia Mathews recused herself because she lives within a few blocks of the new site.
Several dozen residents spoke during the online meeting. The broadcast failed several times during public comment and the council’s deliberation.
Most people who spoke opposed the project and its garage. They were in favor of the council’s other option: a renovation of the current library.
Many said that when they voted for Measure S in 2016, they didn’t know about the garage. Measure S was a $67 million bond measure to “modernize, upgrade and repair local libraries,” according to the ballot language. The City of Santa Cruz was allocated $27 million for its library improvements.
Resident Stacey Falls said she wouldn’t have voted for Measure S had she known about the proposed garage.
“We are still in the climate crisis. It is the existential crisis of our time. It’s worse than COVID-19. And you guys are prioritizing a parking garage?” Falls said.
Barbara Lawrence, a school librarian in Santa Cruz, said she felt “swindled” and that a garage was “outdated.”
“I didn’t vote to build parking,” Lawrence said.
City leaders have said the garage is needed because downtown parking lots are slated to be replaced by housing and other buildings in the coming decade.
Measure S money would only go toward the library — not the garage. The parking garage would be paid for by the city’s parking fund.
Library leaders said fundraising will be necessary to get features such as higher ceilings in the library. To pay for the affordable housing, city leaders and the affordable housing developer would have to cobble together sources such as tax credits, project vouchers, state and federal grants and city money. A deeper financial feasibility report is due in the next three months.
Elizabeth Conlan was one of several who voiced support.
“Climate change is the most pressing issue we face and having density downtown is ultimately the best for the environment,” Conlan said.
Councilmember Brown, a longtime opponent of the mixed-use plan, was part of a council committee with Mayor Cummings and Vice Mayor Meyers that studied the library decision in recent months.
As part of the committee, Brown voted for the mixed-use project June 12. She flipped her vote again Tuesday.
“In my role here tonight, I think that my job here is to represent the public and to represent the public interest,” Brown said. “And in my time on the council, I have never seen a more lopsided correspondence. People said three to one, but as I tracked it over time, it seems to me more four to one, opposing the mixed-use project.”
Mayor Cummings, explaining his vote for the mixed-use project, said, “We would not get a fully adequate library” with a renovation, as an architect’s report showed in December. “One of the things that I first and foremost am thinking about is how can we get the best, most quality library with the funding that we have,” Cummings said.
Beiers’ vote against the mixed-use project was consistent with her position during her campaign for the March 3 election. She said in a Santa Cruz Local interview in January that she would only support a renovation of the current library.
Golder, during her campaign this year, did not take a position on the library. Tuesday, she said that she heard from many opponents of the mixed-use plan who were well-organized and had a lot of time.
She said she reached out to her constituents. “They’re busy and they’re young families and they don’t have time for the level of civic engagement but overwhelmingly they were in favor of the mixed-use project,” Golder said. “And so ultimately, I think I’m in favor of the project because ultimately there’s never going to be a solution that’s gonna make everyone happy. But we do need more housing. We need a modern library. We need more efficient urban parking.”
Several requirements were included in the preliminary plan approved Tuesday:
- City leaders will pursue the most housing affordability.
- The building height will not exceed the five-story adjacent University Town Center, or if that’s not possible then the height should not exceed the six-story apartments at 1010 Pacific Ave.
- This project’s affordable housing and the housing at the planned Pacific Station project at the downtown Metro station will be the priorities of the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
- To the extent feasible, downtown employees should be given preference for the affordable housing units.
ICYMI: Listen to Santa Cruz Local’s recent podcast episode on the downtown library plan.
In other news
- The city council unanimously extended the moratorium on residential and commercial evictions through July, for renters impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns.
- City leaders recently allocated about $283,000 of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to eight local agencies and programs: Community Bridges Elderday ($24,746), Community Bridges Meals on Wheels ($51,648), Santa Cruz Community Health Centers ($30,000), Dientes ($46,750), Second Harvest Food Bank ($51,648), Santa Cruz Farmers Market ($30,000), HOPE Services ($17,979), Community Action Board ($30,000).
- The city council will hold a July 2 special meeting to discuss the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
- In recent months, the city’s economic development department gave $500,000 in small loans to 51 small businesses hit by COVID-19. The council plans to consider another round of microloan funding, depending on the budget session in July. City staff seek responses on two public surveys on COVID-19 impact: one for small business owners or independent contractors and the other for renters and landlords. Feedback will guide policy decisions.
- The city council unanimously advanced a proposed law that would prohibit the purchase or use of facial recognition or predictive policing technology until the council is confident that the technology does not perpetuate racial bias or violate civil rights. Mayor Cummings will create a committee with two other council members to make recommendations on police reform and seek advice from the black, Latino and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Cummings and Police Chief Andy Mills will host an online forum 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss their listening efforts with the black community.
- During the open public comment session, about a dozen callers demanded the defunding of Santa Cruz police. They wanted city leaders to reallocate money to social services such as mental health and homeless services. The push from residents was similar to what the council heard from during public comment at the last meeting.
- The city council unanimously approved a Black Lives Matter mural to be painted on the asphalt on Center Street between Church and Locust streets, in front of city hall. The mural will be privately funded.
- The council voted 4-3 to advance a new law that would loosen the licensing requirement for cannabis businesses. In the proposed law, if the business ownership changes by 50% or more, then the owners would have to reapply for a license. The current law sets a 30% threshold. Beiers, Golder, Brown and Cummings voted yes. Mathews, Watkins and Meyers voted no.
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.