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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

Irony and Environy (Let's kill "those" trees, instead!)

You are bound to be hearing more about a proposed ballot initiative that will stop the construction of about 100 apartments in Santa Cruz. Apartments that will be affordable to low-income workers and low-income families. Now I know that proponents of this initiative will think that’s an unfair characterization of their effort because they claim that is not their intention. BUT, it is definitively accurate just the same.

The best part of this tale are the three bits of irony associated with the initiative effort.

First, the initiative tries mightily to frame itself as a pro-affordable housing measure. They cite their focus on the use of certain flat city parking lot land for housing as proof of their commitment to affordable housing. There are a couple of tiny problems with that framing.

-The measure proposes conceptual housing opportunities in the vague future while killing 100 affordable apartments that are very close to ready to go.

-This is put together by a group that says they favor a great library and more housing—and a desire to reduce the priority of parking—and then they present an initiative that ensures that parking will be the only viable use (of these three potential uses) remaining on a huge publicly-owned piece of land. No library. No housing.

Another other irony (yeah, I’m probably misusing the word like almost everyone else does) is that the authors of this proposal claim to be pro-affordable housing but none of the leading local groups that focus on affordable housing were involved in the actual writing of the measure. There’s nothing wrong with climate activists and anti-parking warriors and lovers of a broken down, mediocre library building, and faux farmers market representatives getting together to write an affordable housing measure. But it is fair to wonder why those most focused on affordable housing issues were not invited to play a leading role in shaping this proposal. This is a bit snarky but still on point: I don’t think we’d want old white guys taking the lead to write racial equity policy when there are much more knowledgeable people to take that lead.

And a third irony: many of us recall that the opponents of the library at the new site falsely claimed that the use of Library Bond funds for a new library (rather than a second-class repaired library) was a “bait and switch.” Their false claim was that the ballot measure only suggested using the money to repair the library and did not suggest the idea of building a new one. You can read in this earlier post why their claim is false and there was no “bait and switch.” But clearly, these folks have stated that “bait and switch” is a really bad thing to do. Thus, I am required to point out that the opponents of the library/housing at the new site are clearly doing a bait and switch with their initiative proposal. It’s a bit complicated but the short version is that the Downtown business community and Downtown workers and others in the community went along with a package of parking rate increases because the increases were going to pay for parking and transportation improvements Downtown. This is what the City Council committed to the entire community when they adopted the higher rates. (Kinda makes sense that the City would use parking funds for parking-oriented purposes, right?) So now the authors of this reckless initiative are planning to take those parking funds for other uses and not asking anyone if we should keep those higher parking rates in place (since we aren’t going to use those funds for what the City Council committed to.).

I’m just getting started… there are many other problems with this ill-conceived scheme.

If you read the promo material on their website, the proponents claim they will create the first dedicated funding stream for affordable housing. This would be great -- if only it were accurate. First, the City does already have a small (though totally inadequate) funding stream for affordable housing. So, they just made that one up.

Second, if you read the fine print, the funding stream they are talking about is “excess parking revenue.” Then the initiative language names as priorities for the use of excess parking revenue: supplement library funding; improve the farmers’ market; improve downtown transportation alternatives; and help with affordable housing. These are all good things—but the “excess” parking revenue is not all that much money (and pretty close to non-existent if the City Council declines to play along with the groups “bait and switch” approach I mentioned above.) When four different major efforts are competing for the money, it is simply an invention to call this “the City’s first dedicated funding stream for affordable housing” (this is a direct quote from their group’s home page on their website).

Next…let’s get serious about the parking issue. Without this issue underlying all the other issues, this effort would probably crumble. It’s what brings on board many people concerned about climate impact and alternatives to automobiles.

But what do we actually know about how killing the proposal (for library, housing and parking) on the biggest parking lot and shifting housing opportunities to other lots will impact climate?

For instance, there is a presumption that building parking spaces into this project will increase car use.

What has been lost in this discussion is the fact that various projects which are moving forward right now downtown will REMVOVE about 270 parking spaces. And we’ve all noticed that the City has removed at least 30 more spaces for outside dining downtown recently (Covid! It had to mentioned at least once, right?) Seems like some of these spaces will now remain as outside dining areas for a long time. So if the City builds a new building that includes 300 parking spaces while there are about 300 spaces being subtracted, I’m pretty sure that adds up to ZERO new parking spaces. Hmmm… how does adding zero parking spaces increase automobile use?

And then there’s this. If 100 households get new apartments in the new building, there will be at least dozens of households that have people who used to drive a long way into central Santa Cruz for work—and now won’t need to drive at all because their work and shopping and convenient public transit will be right nearby. If even 25 just households that currently drive to Downtown from Watsonville each work day were able to live Downtown and not drive to work, that would reduce carbon emissions by about 25 tons per year. It would reduce “vehicle miles traveled” by about 300,000 miles per year.

Let’s really look at the math and the science on this. It’s so easy to play the “more cars” card in a debate like this and assume that climate and environment activists will rise up and join the battle. Clearly, this ploy is already working. However, it seems like it will serve the community debate/discussion if advocacy statement were backed up by data.

I enjoy yelling “hypocrisy” in my blogging. It’s so easy because there’s so much of it around to work with. Here’s today’s hypocrisy moment. The proponents of this initiative decry (again on their home page) the loss of 10 trees on this site if the library/parking/housing building is built. But, then, they offer up several other city parking lots for affordable housing construction. Most notably, they promote the lot behind the Del Mar Theater and Kianti’s for housing. If that site were built upon, 8 trees would be removed. So, apparently, it’s okay to kill 8 trees as long as it isn’t 10.

[the trees pictured above are on lots that will NOT be protected from development in the new measure... I guess they picked the wrong parking lot to live in]

Lastly, a question: Has anyone noticed the Farmers Market organization… the people that operate the downtown market… has NOT fought to preserve the current site for the market?

I can’t speak for them – any more than the proponents of this initiative can speak for them—but clearly they don’t see the survival of the market as dependent on keeping the current site. If they did, I think we call all agree they would fight like hell. Instead, read what the top guy at the Farmers’ Market organization actually said about all this. (Sneak preview: the linked article’s headline is: “Farmers market exec: Downtown redevelopment ballot initiative doesn’t represent our interests”) So they aren’t fighting…

Instead, it’s me and many other serious affordable housing advocates fighting… for real affordable housing for real humans in our community -- that can be built in a realistic time frame and done in a way that is environmentally sustainable.


It seems like I always have to have an afterthought in my posts--I just can't leave well enough alone: Whenever I go Downtown on Wednesday, parking seems particularly difficult—especially for the folks that dare to drive a car to go to the Farmers’ Market. And I’m tuned into the fact that the big parking lot across Cedar from the Market is about to be cleared and have an affordable housing project built there. This means that that soon, there will be even less parking in the vicinity of the Market. I know we wish everyone would avoid driving to the Market—but we know many people will still drive. Won’t it be great when we have scores of cars driving around in circles downtown trying to find a parking place somewhere sort of near the Market? I suspect this will be particularly good for the climate and our community’s carbon footprint.

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Nov 10, 2021

Many interesting points. On the idea that less parking benefits the climate, I think that having less might discourage driving in some cases. But, alone, it mostly causes frustration. It's necessary to create alternatives. As you point out, one great alternative is building housing within close distance of jobs/shopping/etc. Adding back our share-bike program will help (hopefully coming back this year). More protected bike lanes, public transit is important too. And more public education that helps drivers remember the connection between their personal choices and climate change.

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