Library, Parking, Housing – and Rubbish
Knowing the persistence of the venerable opponents of the project, I know this post will not be the final word in our community’s back and forth on the Library/Housing/Parking project downtown. However, I do I have at least a few more words to share. (especially now that I hit a nerve with my last post on this topic and triggered quite a response from a key project opponent - you can find that post here)
The folks opposing the project put a lot words into their conceptual support for affordable housing. What strikes me as missing in their story is the following historical point:
City Councilmembers that were not in support of the current version of the library project were in the majority on the city council for more than a year. During that period, they had an opportunity, using the full resources of our city government and having the support of well-organized advocacy groups, to shape an alternative proposal that excluded parking and created more affordable housing. They never utilized that opportunity.
I don’t doubt that these folks recognize the need for affordable housing and their wish for more of it—I do doubt the seriousness of their commitment to make it actually happen.
Affordable housing doesn’t happen because some elected officials and some anti-parking advocates say they think it’s important. It happens through planning and serious, persistent work. The folks who have advocated for this project since housing became an integral part of it have done that work.
I think some opponents of the project are being somewhat disingenuous when they say they want more time and more community engagement on this. They’ve had a lot of time to create an alternative housing plan and they have simply failed to do so. I have personally participated in several official city forums on this project and I have sat in these meetings right next to people who made full presentations to make their case for an alternative approach. They were heard many times by many city officials and the community. To say that we need a brand-new process at this point is simply a nice-sounding way of killing a project.
At this point, having failed to create a serious alternative plan, they seem to be saying that we should wait long enough on this decision so that the only choice we have is to remodel the old library – even though the vast majority of library people (local professionals and the Friends of the Library) are clear that a new library would be much superior to a remodel (for the same amount of money!) Did you know that Capitola and Felton are building brand-new libraries with Measure S Library Bond money right now? (New – not remodels.) The other branches are all meeting the upcoming deadline for spending these library construction funds, while Santa Cruz city draws perilously close to losing our chance to build a great new downtown library (and central hub for the whole system) with these funds.
On a totally different point… the various projects that are moving forward downtown right now will cause a loss of about 365 parking places. Does it really seem outlandish to include 400 spaces to replace those… especially when we are looking to add perhaps 150 or 200 more apartments downtown that won’t have to include on-site parking?
Yes, there are times when there is excess parking downtown and some of this can be used for new downtown residents. But much of this parking is several blocks away from the new housing projects. Probably not realistic or practical for the families and seniors that will live there. So we do want to have a modest amount of parking near new apartments even if we don’t build a parking space for every new apartment. (Of course, we could only allow the lower income folks living in these apartments to have to have super-inconvenient parking several blocks from their home. But that hardly seem “progressive” or equitable.)
What about climate impacts and other environmental values? I think this question is deeply important for our community. It’s worthy of careful examination. It’s certainly reasonable to argue for the climate benefits of fewer parking spaces. It is equally reasonable to value to the climate benefits of building more homes adjacent to where people work and can live much of their lives with less car use. I’m not aware of any formal studies of the climate impact that would support either position when it comes to this project. Given the absence of real data on this, it is somewhat surprising that project opponents have so much certainty on the climate impacts of the project. (This seems particularly relevant since -as noted before - there will be a net parking space increase of only about 35 spaces rather than the 400 that opponents talk about so much. They are very good at addition but seem to have missed their subtraction lesson 😊 )
We need only look to this national Sierra Club policy statement to see why a project like this makes a lot of sense in terms of the environment:
How we build cities and towns has a profound effect on the causes and impacts of climate change. An essential strategy for reducing urban related carbon emissions is supporting dense, mixed-use communities and land uses that prioritize walking, biking or transit to meet daily transportation needs, as well as balancing jobs and housing within the region. If we make communities not only dense, but inclusive, then fewer people will have to drive till they qualify for housing financing, saving even more emissions. The benefits of sustainable development, also known as smart growth, include saving money for people, governments and businesses, improving public health, enhancing the quality of life, reducing carbon emissions and other pollution, and leaving more pastoral and natural lands in place.
(As a 40-year Sierra Club member, I want to be clear that the local chapter of the Sierra Club is an opponent of this project. Obviously, I don’t agree with their position on this… and I wish the local chapter would be more focused on “smart growth” principles embraced by the national Sierra Club.)
Lastly, you can really see some of the worst of the opponents' political word games at work when you consider this: many opponents are advocating for saving this farmers’ market parking lot and trees with a “commons” plan (a very nice park and plaza) in one argument and then, later, other opposition team members casually offer up the same site for a library/housing project without parking spaces in it. The trees would have to go in that second version. Are the trees sacrosanct except when they’re not? Less double-talk would be helpful to improve our discourse.
And, of course, there’s the political game of suggesting conspiratorial evil behind those you disagree with. You’ll find at the center of much of the argument against the project that there is a consulting report on downtown parking by consultant Patrick Siegman. To hear the opponents tell it, Siegman and his report have pretty much been locked in a dungeon beneath city hall and the secret information in the report is lost. What’s curious about the opponents claim on this is that so much information about Siegman’s work has been shown to the community and the City Council. Here’s a fun fact: Siegman made a full presentation to the City Council on all of this on March 19, 2019 (Here’s a link to that city council meeting.) And there was plenty of media coverage of the Siegman controversy. Here’s one example https://goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-news/news/600-downtown-parking-spaces-new-questions/. Anyways…This is perhaps the least secret “suppressed” report in the history of Santa Cruz. Some might call the opponents claims of suppression of Siegman’s work “audacious.” I think it’s something worse. (see my “final word” below…)
In the end, my main point is that the opponents of this project are trying to sell the community on how outrageous this project is when, clearly, it is a reasonable approach that is in sync with many of the equity and environmental values of our community (and does nothing to remove our beloved farmers’ market from downtown). There are some reasonable arguments against the project but too many of the arguments fit within the definition of my final word on the subject (and one of my personal favorite words in general):