The Eggplant That Ate Santa Cruz?
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
A closer look at a “monstrous boondoggle”
The “monstrous boondoggle” would be the Library Mixed Use project recently approved by the City Council, after more than two years of city council studying and extensive community discussion. Of course, you may know it as the “massive, tree-killing parking garage that will destroy Santa Cruz.”
Who could be for that??
Well…Let’s say we had a chance to build a great new library geared to the technology and uses of the next generation… and a chance to build a bunch of permanently affordable housing… and a chance to make it possible for hundreds more local working people to live downtown rather than driving to work from miles away … and a chance to consolidate very inefficient surface parking lots into one multi-level structure…and a chance to free up additional city-owned land to build truly affordable (rent-restricted) rental housing.
And (stay with me for a moment longer) this project can move ahead right now -- even in the midst of a terrible city budget situation – because none of the funds needed to build it are “general fund” dollars. (General fund dollars are what pay for parks and firefighters and cops and the ongoing operation of the city.) Contrary to what you may have heard, funds that are legally set aside for the library, affordable housing and parking improvements are the funds that will build this project … and we don’t have to cut city services to pay for it.
That’s the overview. Not such a bad eggplant, after all.
But I’m not as interested in the overall package as I am in affordable housing.
In the midst of the pandemic and fire recovery -- on top of the tremendous long-term housing and homelessness problem we’ve had -- there is no issue more important than affordable housing. Affordable housing is what creates more equity in a community. It’s what reduces homelessness in a community. And it’s the foundation of health and success for every person and every family of modest means in our community.
So let’s look at the huge positive housing impact the library mixed use building can have on our community.
1) At least 50 units of rent-restricted, permanently affordable housing will be built into the project.
2) When the library moves, the current library site will be available and can be provided at no cost to a nonprofit affordable housing developer to build an additional 75 to 100 rent-restricted affordable apartments. (I’m not trying to be vague here… it just depends on what kind of project the city wants to pursue.)
3) When there are new parking spaces built in the library project, it will mean that two other nearby housing projects that are moving forward will not need to include any parking in their buildings. (These would be on the Metro Transit site and on the big parking lot next to the red church.) This is a big deal because it means those projects can have even more apartments included because there won’t be the need to provide on-site parking.
4) Because there is a some chance (though not a certainty) that there could be a surplus of parking downtown at some point as habits and technology change, the library structure will be even more useful in terms of housing. Why? Because another surface lot (owned by the City) could then be retired, and made available at no cost to a nonprofit housing developer to build even more rent-restricted, permanently affordable apartments.
5) When these positive dominoes fall, hundreds of people will be able to live and work downtown without any need for a car. This makes their housing even more affordable—and does more for the climate than ten beautiful trees.
This is no boondoggle.
The funding is there.
The housing opportunities are there.
The land is there.
We can move forward on this and make real strides toward a more diverse and equitable community.
The real “boondoggle” would be to rely on wishful thinking and unrealistic platitudes about housing from well-meaning advocates, and then miss this opportunity completely.
PS- Why are so many people outraged that the library funds they voted for a few years back might to build a new library in downtown Santa Cruz -- but those same folks are silent about the NEW libraries being built with those same funds in Capitola and in Felton? I went to the library and looked this up. Apparently there are a couple of terms that apply here: “double standard” and “grasping at straws.” (Did you know that you need look no further than downtown Watsonville to find a mixed-used building combining a library and multi-level parking. Crazy, huh?)
PPS- Some have asked why we would move ahead with this now, when we are in a budget and economic crisis. Answers: 1) because we are in the middle of a friggin’ housing crisis that has only gotten worse this year; 2) because we will lose the chance to use our share of the library funds if we don’t get started on creating a new library soon.; 3) because this thing is ready to move ahead; opponents are throwing out some very nice-sounding ideas about alternatives that will delay or eliminate our housing opportunity. Some of sentiments ideas are genuine and very well-intentioned but not realistic. Others are simply inventions to mobilize select constituencies against the project.
And one more thing… did you ever wonder why the people that run the downtown farmers’ market have not fought tooth and nail against this project? That’s right—they haven’t. It’s because the City has already made a commitment to a very convenient new downtown market site with more amenities and improvements. We aren’t losing the farmers’ market if this library project goes forward.