Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

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Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

A project at Cedar and Cathcart streets is expected to include a new library, housing, a parking garage, shops and a child care center. (Jayson Architecture)

What is Measure O?

Measure O is a voter initiative in the city of Santa Cruz that would halt the planned construction of a new Downtown library, affordable housing and parking garage on city parking Lot 4 at Cedar and Cathcart streets. It also includes commercial space and a child care center. The Santa Cruz City Council approved the library project on the site in 2020.

This year, a group called Our Downtown, Our Future gathered more than 5,000 signatures to put Measure O on the ballot.

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What would Measure O do? 

Passage of Measure O would:

  • Force renovation of the existing Downtown library at 224 Church St. rather than construct a new library at Cathcart and Cedar streets.
  • Create a permanent home for the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market at its current location on city parking Lot 4.
  • Designate eight city-owned lots for future affordable housing development, partly funded by parking revenue. Measure O’s authors and city consultants disagree on whether some parking lots could be developed for affordable housing.

What does a “yes” vote mean?

A “yes” vote would halt the development of the mixed-use library, garage and affordable housing project. Passage of Measure O would promote affordable housing development at eight other city-owned parking lots and create new rules about affordable housing projects on those lots.

What does a “no” vote mean?

A “no” vote would allow the Downtown library, housing, parking garage and shops project to continue as planned.

Things to consider

Background on the Downtown library project and Measure O

In June 2016, 70% of Santa Cruz County voters approved Measure S. Measure S allowed the sale of $67 million in bonds to upgrade and build new libraries in the Santa Cruz Public Libraries system. 

Measure S has funded new libraries that have opened in Capitola and Felton and library renovations in La Selva Beach and Garfield Park. A new Aptos library is being built on its old site, and renovations continue in Boulder Creek, Live Oak and Branciforte. 

In Downtown Santa Cruz, it was not determined that a new library would be built on a new site until after Measure S was adopted by voters. 

A Downtown Library Advisory Committee formed in 2016 and held several public meetings with architects and library leaders about the future of the Downtown library. The group weighed renovation on the current site at 224 Church St. against building a new library on a new site. 

The committee considered a partial and full renovation of the library. A partial renovation would be too small, and full renovation would be too expensive, the committee stated in its final report. The committee unanimously recommended a new mixed-use library on Cedar, Cathcart and Lincoln streets. 

Janis O’Driscoll, the former deputy director of Santa Cruz Public Libraries, closely followed the committee’s work but was not on the committee. “The question was, how are we going to support a growing population and growing demand for library services in a smaller building?” said “We looked at that and said, ‘Well, we can’t.’” O’Driscoll is now board president of the nonprofit Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

At a Santa Cruz City Council meeting Sept. 27, Santa Cruz Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb presented the most recent design plan. It includes:

  • A 38,000-square-foot library with a 3,200 square-foot rooftop patio.
  • A 1,900-square-foot child care center and play area.
  • A 9,600-square-foot commercial space.
  • A three-story, 243-space parking garage. 
  • Locked enclosures and racks for 258 bicycles.

The affordable housing project will provide 124 units, including:

  • 31 three-bedroom units.
  • 31 two-bedroom units.
  • 48 one-bedroom units.
  • 13 studios.

Eighty units will be for renters designated as “very low income” who earn 50% or less of the area median income. The income limit for those units is about $54,000 to $78,000, depending on the household size. Rents would range from about $1,294 to $1,877 per month, city staff said.

Twenty-seven units will be allocated for “extremely low income” renters who earn 30% or less of the area median income. The income limit for those units is about $32,000 to $47,000, depending on the household size. Rents would range from about $749 to $1,068 per month, city staff said.

The 16 remaining units would be designated for renters who earn 60% or less of the area median income. The income limit for those units is about $65,000 to $93,000, depending on the household size. Rents would range from $1,566 to $2,281 per month, city staff said.

Downtown Santa Cruz library plan

A December 2021 illustration shows the configuration of the library, garage, housing, commercial and day care project on Cedar and Cathcart streets in Downtown Santa Cruz. The library interior square footage is now planned to be 38,000 square feet and the parking spots have been reduced to 243. (Jayson Architecture)

Renovation versus new construction

When the Downtown Library Advisory Committee considered renovations to the current Downtown library, they found it would need many updates that included a new ventilation system and an updated floor plan with more meeting rooms. Those updates would also cut into the library’s existing square footage, meaning that a renovated library on the current site would be slightly smaller than the existing building.

Based on the roughly $40 million budget for the Downtown library, a renovated library on the current site would be 30,230 square feet. A new library on Cedar and Cathcart streets would be 38,090 square feet, according to a report by the city-hired consultants Keyser Marston Associates Inc.

The Keyser Marston impact report for Measure O concluded that a renovated library on Church Street would cost $200,000 more than a new building and it would be nearly 8,000 square feet smaller. (Keyser Marston Associates Inc.)

John Hall, an organizer of the Yes on Measure O campaign, said that a renovated library on its current Church Street site could expand to adjacent city parking Lots 14 or 16 if needed.

Supporters of Measure O have said that renovating the existing library would be more environmentally friendly than building a new library because it would involve less construction and carbon output.

The Downtown library at 224 Church St. in Santa Cruz. (Stephen Baxter—Santa Cruz Local file)

A rendering shows a planned three-story library and an apartment building above a parking structure on Cedar and Lincoln streets in Santa Cruz. (Jayson Architecture)

Parking garage

Leaders of the Yes on Measure O campaign have raised two arguments against the parking structure: That it is not needed, and that it is financially infeasible.

Initial plans for a new library structure in 2016 included a 640-space parking garage. When affordable housing was added to the plan in 2020, city staff proposed a four-level parking structure with one underground level. Now, there would be three levels, all above ground, and 243 spots rather than the 400 spots that were proposed.

City staff have said that the parking structure won’t add new parking supply to downtown. Instead, it will help make up for existing surface parking lots that are expected to be demolished:

Since 2018, 291 parking spaces have been removed from Downtown because of development and outdoor dining parklets, the Keyser Marston consultant report stated. If the mixed-use project goes forward and the current library site is redeveloped, it would result in a net loss of about 164 to 264 spaces, according to the report. Additionally, three city-sponsored affordable developments and four private developments are planned for downtown, many of which are expected to provide little or no parking. 

Passage of Measure O would dedicate the city parking lots in green to affordable housing development. (Keyser Marston Associates Inc.)

Measure O supporters said that replacing lost parking spaces shouldn’t be the city’s goal. Measure O supporter Rick Longinotti said he supports using technology to better allocate city spaces, and pricing monthly permits higher to incentivise alternative transportation. “Building parking is a last resort,” Longinotti said. 

Longinotti pointed to a report from consultants Nelson Nygaard in 2019. It concluded that Downtown had ample parking supply and recommended strategies to better use existing parking spaces. One strategy would create higher-priced “premium zones” of the most central, in-demand parking zones and lower-priced “value zones” for areas more likely to have open spots. 

Measure O would change the city’s General Plan to prioritize that the city’s surplus parking revenue pay for free bus passes for downtown workers, pay for library renovations, and pay for affordable housing and improvements to city parking Lot 4 for public gatherings.

Longinotti, the Measure O supporter, said he did not believe the parking district can secure the money needed for the parking structure. The parking district has been operating at a deficit since 2020, and as of the fiscal year starting July 2022, is $3.9 million in the red, according to city budget records. City leaders estimate that in Fiscal Year 2023-24 the parking district will spend $2.9 million more than it will bring in. City staff said the dip in revenues was due to the early days of the COVID pandemic when parking downtown sharply dropped and some parking fees were temporarily waived.

Santa Cruz Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb said in a Sept. 27 city council meeting that staff are “very confident” about the district’s ability to successfully use bonds or loans to finance the structure. City staff is expected to present an updated model of how the garage will be funded at a future city council meeting, Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb also discussed funding for the affordable housing project at the Sept. 27 meeting.

Affordable housing

Measure O would halt the production of 124 units of low-income housing and wipe away over $7 million in grant funds secured, opponents of Measure O have said. 

The measure identifies eight alternative sites for affordable housing in city parking lots across the city. Measure O authors and city consultants disagree about whether the alternative sites could feasibly be developed. 

According to a supplementary report prepared by the Measure O campaign, the eight alternative locations could support 305 to 433 affordable housing units. According to the Keyser Marston report, three of those sites could feasibly be developed:

The development of 50 units on lots 8 and 9 may be “difficult” due to city height limits, according to the report. The city can develop affordable housing on these sites under existing rules. Measure O’s prohibition of above-ground level parking “could potentially constrain the development potential,” according to the report.

City parking Lots 11 and 27 on Front Street are expected to be sold to a hotel developer who owns the adjacent property. Measure O’s requirement to keep the current library building would also make developing housing on adjacent city lots 16 and 14 difficult, the Keyser Marston report stated. 

The remaining three locations are too small and irregularly shaped to work as affordable housing locations, the report said.

The report’s analysis assumes that to be cost-effective for developers, sites for affordable housing must be able to fit at least 50 units within five or fewer stories of residential development. That requires about half an acre, larger than most of the sites proposed by Measure O.

Another aim of Measure O is to prevent construction of multi-level parking structures on city parking lots. If the lots are developed, only the ground level would be available for parking, and only affordable housing units could be built on above-ground floors.

There is disagreement about whether the passage of Measure O would allow shops on those parking lots. 

Measure O’s authors, including Rick Longinotti, said the ballot measure language allows commercial development on the first floor if it shares the space with parking. 

The Keyser Marston consultant report states that Measure O wouldn’t allow ground-floor shops in housing developments on the eight city parking lots specified by the measure. The new rules would conflict with the city’s General Plan and zoning codes, which promote mixed-use development with ground-level commercial use, the report states. 

One of the proposed alternative sites is also in the coastal zone, which is governed by California Coastal Commission regulations that promote ground-floor businesses in new developments. 

Farmers market

Measure O would require the Santa Cruz Farmers Market to remain in its current location on city parking Lot 4, according to the Keyser Marston consultant report. If the measure fails and the new Downtown library development is built, the market may move to city parking Lot 7 at Front and Cathcart streets.

On Oct. 14, city and farmers market leaders said they signed a memorandum of understanding that expressed that they are “jointly committed to identifying and securing a permanent home for the market in Downtown Santa Cruz,” city spokeswoman Eileen Cross wrote in a statement. The city has allocated more than $1.7 million for the construction of a new farmers market facility with an overhead structure for year-round use.

The board of the Farmers Market has remained neutral about Measure O, and have not expressed a preference between remaining at Lot 4 or moving to Lot 7.

—Jesse Kathan

Editor’s note: New information was added in October about an agreement between Santa Cruz city leaders and farmers market leaders. 

More information

Related Santa Cruz Local stories

Stay informed on Santa Cruz County’s biggest issues.

Santa Cruz Local’s newsletter breaks down complex local topics and shows residents how to get involved.

Editor’s note: Projected library cost information has been updated in an image caption. 

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