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SANTA CRUZ >> The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on a $240,000 contract for consulting services for the downtown library project after some residents asked the council to rein in the project.
The Mixed Use Downtown Library Project calls for the construction of a ground floor library with a minimum of 50 affordable housing units on top and a parking lot with no more than 400 spaces.
Some residents oppose the project because they see additional parking as car-centric infrastructure inappropriate in an era of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
“The city’s model is not worth much right now,” said Rick Longinotti, a vocal critic. He referred to an economic model that showed the city would earn significant income from paid parking at the project location near Cathcart, Cedar and Lincoln Streets.
Longinotti and some other residents who spoke at the online city council meeting said the coming financial stressors from the pandemic and city budget shortfalls from tourist declines mean the project should be fully reconsidered.
The resolution called for the city of Santa Cruz to pay Griffin Structures Inc. $240,000 to be the city’s project manager for the library project. Griffin would manage the budget, schedule and various subcontractors. Santa Cruz City Manager Martin Bernal said such consulting arrangements are routine for cities and other public entities during complex development projects.
“The council should postpone this item until the city provides the financial report,” said Robert Hull, a resident who called in during public comment. “You need to give full and due fiscal consideration.”
Councilmember Martine Watkins noted that while $240,000 is, in isolation, a large expenditure, it should be viewed as more of an investment in ensuring a multi-million-dollar project is successful. The project is slated to cost at least $64 million, with the city identifying $27 million in Measure S funding and $37 million in parking district funds.
But residents said the contract approval should wait until after the city presents its finances to the public.
The city staff was slated to provide a city budget update Tuesday. The city faces deficits due to COVID-related shutdowns. The presentation was delayed because leaders said it would have more data to present during a meeting in October.
Also, in June, the council directed the city staff to provide within three months detailed financial information on the housing, library and garage components of the project. No financial update was given Tuesday.
Councilmember Katherine Beiers said delaying consideration of the contract until after the budget presentation was only a portion of the rationale. Beiers said she had not seen the full terms of the contract in time for the meeting.
“What kind of business person would ever sign a $240,000 contract without having seen it?” Beiers asked. “The [civil] grand jury criticized the city for not being open and fully transparent, so I think we should take a couple of weeks to make sure this contract is out there in the open.”
Ultimately, the rest of the city council agreed. They voted unanimously to delay the vote to no later than the second meeting in October.
Many residents asked the city council to revisit details including parking spaces. They cited climate change and the shift to bicycle commuting during the pandemic. City council members appeared less inclined to fully reconsider the project.
“I think parking is an important component of this project,” said Mayor Justin Cummings.
Cummings indicated he would be supportive of appointing a consultant after the public and councilmembers had the proper time to comb through the contract.
“When it comes to a project of this magnitude, you do need consultants,” Cummings said.
Civil grand jury report
In other news, the city council approved the city staff’s response to a Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury report that criticized the council for maintaining insufficient conduct policies for council members. The grand jury contended that the council’s policies allowed too much disruption at meetings, among other issues.
The report came in the wake of the recalls of two city council members this year: Chris Krohn and Drew Glover.
The civil grand jury made recommendations that included a new onboarding process for city council members and a transparency task force to set a new process for how the council sets meeting agendas.
The city staff, in its written response, said they are better equipped to handle disruptions to meetings in the virtual environment prompted by the pandemic and promised to hold future council members accountable for their conduct.
The written response was approved with little public comment.
Matthew Renda is a freelance writer who has garnered multiple awards for his reporting. His work has appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Mercury News, CNET, CBS News, The Atlantic and Outside Magazine. He lives in Watsonville with his wife, Jessica, and their two children.